by Eva Holland | 03.13.14 | 12:16 PM ET
Journalist and travel writer Matthew Power died this week in Uganda while on assignment for Men’s Journal. He was believed to have collapsed from heatstroke while following an explorer who was attempting to hike the length of the Nile. Matt was 39.
I’ve been writing these brief, occasional obituary posts for World Hum for more than six years now, but this is the first time I’ve written about someone I’ve known personally. I first met Matt at a New York City launch party for “The Best American Travel Writing 2009”—he read his wonderful Harper’s story, Mississippi Drift. The way I remember it, I was too shy and intimidated to introduce myself. But when we reconnected a couple of years later he remembered meeting me, so I must have worked up the nerve. I went home that night and looked up his website, and decided that his career and his writing were my ideal—something to aspire to.
More recently, Matt became one of the most important people I turned to as a freelance writer for advice or help. He connected me with his editors, offered suggestions on pitching, even turned over some of his notes once when I was working on a story similar to something he’d covered years ago. More generally, he helped me believe that I was capable of doing the type of ambitious feature writing I wanted to do. He was always kind, generous and supportive beyond all my expectations, and I do not exaggerate when I say that I don’t think I would be where I am as a writer without him. Incredibly, over the last two days I’ve watched my experience echoed by dozens of other young writers across the internet—the word “generous” might be the most common descriptor. It’s hard to understand how he got his own work done, considering how much time he must have spent helping the rest of us.
Compared to his family and close friends, I didn’t know Matt well. But it’s rare to have someone come into your life and then go out of his way to help make it better, and Matt was that someone for me. It’s clear from the response to his death that he had that same outsized impact on so many of the lives he touched. He’ll be missed.
by Brian Kevin | 02.26.13 | 2:38 PM ET
The travel mag was like Chicken Soup for the Gnarly Eco-Nomad's Soul. Brian Kevin ponders what its demise says about travelers and travel publishing.
by Jim Benning | 02.26.13 | 11:56 AM ET
The venerable newspaper isn’t going away, but it will be getting a name change. The New York Times Company, which owns it, announced Monday that it will change the name of the publication this fall to The International New York Times.
From the New York Times’ story, which quotes IHT publisher Stephen Dunbar-Johnson:
The renamed paper will remain based in Paris, where it was founded 125 years ago as the European edition of The New York Herald, Mr. Dunbar-Johnson said. It will also keep its sizable office in Hong Kong where the Asian edition is edited. Mr. Dunbar-Johnson said there also would be investments in other locations. Until the fall it will continue to be published as The International Herald Tribune.
Some of my best travel memories—especially pre-internet—involve sitting down at a cafe with the International Herald Tribune, catching up on the news and watching the world go by. So the coming name change feels a bit like the end of an era.
Though of course that era—when papers like the IHT were the only source of news from home—came to an end with the rise of smart phone and digital media.
by Jim Benning | 05.24.12 | 11:21 AM ET
The Pasadena-born scholar, who died yesterday at the age of 88, wrote more than 20 books on a wide range of topics, including war and class. He’s revered in travel-writing circles for his 1980 book, Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars. It seems a rather obscure topic for a book that would spur debate among travelers and writers for decades, but Fussell was an opinionated critic who took aim at modern tourism and its effect on travel writing.
World Hum contributor Tom Swick reflected on the book and its influence today:
It was like a course no college ever taught—British Travel Writing 101, my first introduction to a distance university. The scholarship was rugged, eclectic and sweeping; the writing authoritative, engaging and witty. With chapters titled “L’Amour de Voyage” and “The New Heliophily,” the book reinforced the image of travel writing as a romantic endeavor, but it also championed it as an art. Here, it said, is an overlooked genre that has been practiced by some of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Here is a literature worthy of academic regard.
The second of these ideas turned out to be the more prophetic. Travel writing continues—despite Fussell’s assertion that tourism killed it—but without the participation of the day’s great novelists. At the same time, academic papers and conferences on travel writing keep proliferating. It is ironic that the book that announced the death of travel writing gave birth to the field of travel writing scholarship.
Of modern tourism, Fussell wrote: “Tourism soothes you by comfort and familiarity and shields you from the shocks of novelty and oddity. It confirms your prior view of the world instead of shaking it up. Tourism required that you see conventional things, and that you see them in a conventional way. Tourism can operate profitably only as a device of mass merchandizing, fulfilling the great modern rule of mediocrity and uniformity.”
Fussell has been cited on World Hum a number of times over the years. A few highlights:
- Non-Places and the End of Travel by Frank Bures
- The Trouble with ‘Smile When You’re Lying’ by Rolf Potts
- Not a Tourist by Tom Swick
- No Place Exists That’s not Worth Writing About by Tom Swick
- China: Not a ‘Psuedo-Place’ by Eva Holland
- ‘Fussel Was Right. We Are All Tourists’
by World Hum | 12.30.11 | 11:40 AM ET
We said goodbye to writers, adventurers, musicians—people who had an impact on travel and the way we see the world.
- Christopher Hitchens, writer
- George Whitman, Shakespeare and Company owner
- Cesária Évora, singer from Cape Verde
- Joel Deutsch, writer, poet, World Hum contributor
- Lynn Ferrin, writer and editor
- Facundo Cabral, musician
- Patrick Leigh Fermor, writer
- Alberto Granado, travel companion to Che Guevara
- Poppa Neutrino, adventurer
- Sargent Shriver, Peace Corps founder
by Jim Benning | 12.29.11 | 8:16 PM ET
I couldn’t let the year end without noting the recent death of Joel Deutsch, an accomplished poet and writer who contributed an essay to World Hum in the site’s earliest days. He was 67.
I met Joel in the late-‘90s in a novel-writing class at UCLA Extension. He was going blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa and asked whether anyone could give him a ride home. I volunteered. We talked about reading and writing on that first drive across Los Angeles. Over time, we became good friends.
Joel had been a poet before I met him, publishing in literary journals, editing one of his own. He went on to write moving essays about going blind, many of which appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
In 2001, we published his essay Exits and Entrances, about introducing Russian immigrant friends to American life at a Fourth of July picnic. It captured the shrinking-planet sensibility we always like to explore at World Hum. It was the only piece we published of his, but he never stopped following the development of the site.
Shortly before his death, he completed his first novel, “The Book of Danny.” He was seeking representation for it when he died.
He was a good friend. I miss him.
by Jim Benning | 12.15.11 | 12:25 PM ET
It’s hard to imagine Paris without Shakespeare & Company, and George Whitman, who died yesterday at the age of 98, owned the famed Left Bank bookstore for years.
He took its name from the original shop owned by Sylvia Beach.
“For decades,” the New York Times notes, “Mr. Whitman provided food and makeshift beds to young aspiring novelists or writing nomads, often letting them spend a night, a week, or even months living among the crowded shelves and alcoves.”
Travel writer Erin Byrne profiled Whitman several years ago, noting that he had “fashioned a life for himself that brings together the two things he loves most in all the world, books and people. It is this combination that makes him tick. Old age without loneliness is unusual; George always has a house full of friends. Fragility without weakness is seldom seen; this man is thin and frail, but his presence is noble.”
His daughter, Sylvia, discusses her father and the store’s history in this terrific video:
by Eva Holland | 10.24.11 | 7:09 AM ET
The travel writer and long-time editor of the AAA magazine for Northern California died recently at 73. Over at Gadling, Don George has a lovely tribute to his friend and colleague, and to the power of great travel writing:
[Lynn] infused her pieces with the wonder that was at the core of her life’s journey, with the big-heartedness, big-mindedness and sense of limitlessness that graced her days—and that graced all of us who knew her. She brought these gifts to her writing, she dared to reach far and dream big in her stories—she dared to write about the meaning of life. And because she did so, she touched all of us in big, and deep, ways.
This is what we all need to do as travel writers, I think now. We need to dream big, think big, fling out filaments that tie our travels to a wider perspective. Our work matters only as much as we make it matter, and we need to write pieces that matter. We need to honor ourselves and our readers in this way. We need to honor the act of writing and the act of connecting—connecting with the world when we travel, and connecting with our readers when we write. In the same way that we look for the interlocking pieces of the whole, we also need to be those pieces—we need to interlock, article to article, reader to reader, becoming a part of the vast puzzle we seek to understand and replicate.
It’s a high and daunting calling—and thank god for that. Why waste our days aiming low and taking no chances?
by Jim Benning | 09.09.11 | 1:03 PM ET
Despite a last-minute campaign by editors and even celebrities, London’s Travel Bookshop has closed.
USA Today’s Laura Bly received an email from the founder yesterday: “The shop is currently closed—but I am going to open it and be there myself this Saturday 10th - for a final day’s sale. Then sadly, that’s it for the Travel Bookshop.”
The store was featured in the 1999 Hugh Grant movie “Notting Hill.” As we noted recently, Alec Baldwin, who appeared in the film, was among those Tweeting his support for efforts to find a buyer.
by Jim Benning | 07.11.11 | 1:27 PM ET
Latin America lost one of its great folk singers over the weekend when Facundo Cabral was gunned down while on tour in Guatemala. He was 74.
The singer-songwriter in the nueva trova tradition railed against oppressive dictatorships in South America and wrote novels and non-fiction. He was riding in a car to the airport in Guetamala City when it was ambushed. Officials suspect a nightclub owner also in the car was the intended target of the attack.
From a New York Times story:
Many of Mr. Cabral’s songs mixed expressions of mystical spirituality with a desire for social justice, which gave him a reputation as a protest singer. That proved dangerous after the Argentine military seized power in a coup in March 1976, and he fled to Mexico, where he remained in exile until after the collapse of the Argentine dictatorship in 1982. On his return, in 1984, Mr. Cabral was more popular than ever.
His sold-out concerts were an unusual mixture of music and the spoken word, with songs preceded by long introductions in which he would muse on philosophy and religion and often quote from his favorite poets, including Borges and Walt Whitman, and spiritual masters like Gandhi and Mother Teresa.
Here’s Cabral performing one of his classics:
by Jim Benning | 06.15.11 | 1:01 PM ET
Now the bugle has sounded for the last and perhaps the most Byronic of this astonishing generation. When I met him some years ago, Leigh Fermor (a slight and elegant figure who didn’t look as if he could squash a roach; he was perfectly played by Dirk Bogarde in Ill Met by Moonlight, the movie of the Kreipe operation) was still able to drink anybody senseless, still capable of hiking the wildest parts of Greece, and still producing the most limpidly written accounts of his solitary, scholarly expeditions.
To his last breath, he remained curious and open-minded to an almost innocent degree and was a conveyor of optimism and humor to his younger admirers. For as long as he is read and remembered, the ideal of the hero will be a real one.
by Jim Benning | 06.10.11 | 9:58 AM ET
Reports are trickling in that Patrick Leigh Fermor, one of travel writing’s greats and the author of “A Time of Gifts,” has died at 96.
In a 1996 profile of Leigh Fermor in The New Yorker, Anthony Lane argued that the writer lived one of the most compelling lives of the 20th century—so fascinating, in fact, that it makes the rest of our lives “laughably provincial in their scope.”
We fret about our kids’ S.A.T. scores, whereas this man, when he was barely more than a kid himself, shouldered a rucksack and walked from Rotterdam to Istanbul. In his sixties, he swam the Hellespont, in homage to Lord Byron—his hero, and to some extent his template. (He once hunted down a pair of the poet’s slippers, “their toes turning up at the tip,” in Missolonghi.) In between, he has joined a cavalry charge, played a game of polo on bicycles outside a Hungarian castle, observed a voodoo ceremony in Haiti, and plunged into a love affair with a princess. He has feasted atop a moonlit tower, with wine and roast lamb hauled up by rope. He has dwelled soundlessly among Trappist monks. He has built himself a house on the soutehrn coast of Greece, where he still resides. He has written seven travel books and a novel, though which is which one cannot readily say, for the travel books pass from fiercely empirical to the fantastic without drawing a breath.
Leigh Fermor’s book, A Times of Gifts, made our list of the top 30 travel books of all time. Tom Swick wrote of the book:
This is a glorious feast, the account of a walk in 1934 from the Hook of Holland to what was then Constantinople. The 18-year-old Fermor began by sleeping in barns but, after meeting some landowners early on, got occasional introductions to castles. So he experienced life from both sides, and with all the senses, absorbing everything: flora and fauna, art and architecture, geography, clothing, music, foods, religions, languages. Writing the book decades after the fact, in a baroque style that is always rigorous, never flowery, he was able to inject historical depth while still retaining the feeling of boyish enthusiasm and boundless curiosity.
by Jim Benning | 03.07.11 | 11:39 AM ET
On their journey:
As young medical students, they witnessed deep poverty across the continent, particularly Chile, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela, and their stay at a Peruvian leper colony left a lasting impression on the pair.
They parted ways in Venezuela, where Granado stayed on to work at a clinic treating leprosy patients.
In 1961, Granado moved to Cuba, where he taught biochemistry at Havana University.
by Michael Yessis | 01.28.11 | 3:34 PM ET
That’s the name David Pearlman began going by when he turned 50, a year after recovering from an illness. Before and after, Neutrino/Pearlman led an amazing and unconventional American life. Among the highlights: He built rafts out of junk and made like Thor Heyerdahl, sailing across oceans.
In 1988 Mr. Pearlman converted an abandoned barge into a paddle-wheel houseboat, Town Hall, that tied up at Pier 25 on the Hudson River off TriBeCa for several years.
It was then that he began scavenging the material for Son of Town Hall, a 40-foot raft made of discarded timber, foam bricks and plastic bottles lashed together, basketlike, with 3,000 feet of rope abandoned by Con Edison.
Alec Wilkinson wrote a book about Neutrino, The Happiest Man in the World.
We’ve celebrated him over the years in our own way, including enshrining him at the top of our list of the 39 greatest names in travel and adventure.
Poppa Neutrino was 77.
by Jim Benning | 01.19.11 | 1:59 PM ET
Among his many other accomplishments, Shriver, who died yesterday at the age of 95, was the founding director of the Peace Corps.
PeaceCorps.org has a tribute to Shriver. It notes that President Kennedy signed the executive order establishing the Peace Corps in March of 1961 and named Shriver to head the agency three days later.
By December of 1961, there were more than 500 Peace Corps volunteers serving in nine host countries: Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, St. Lucia, Tanzania, and Pakistan, with an additional 200 Americans in training for service across the U.S.
By 1963, Shriver was leading an agency with more than 6,500 volunteers serving in nearly 50 countries. It was an extraordinary effort that only could have been accomplished by a leader with immense skill, audacious vision, and indefatigable energy. Shriver’s idealism and enthusiasm were essential to the creation and character of the agency; he is the founding father of the Peace Corps.
by World Hum | 12.31.10 | 12:33 PM ET
We said goodbye to writers, adventurers, musicians—people who had an impact on travel and the way we see the world
- Palle Huld, travel author and inspiration for Tintin
- Leslie Nielsen, actor
- Andy Irons, surfer
- Philip Hoffman, surfer
- Barbara Billingsley, actress
- Dennis Hopper, actor and director
- Charlie Gillett, DJ
- Alex Chilton, musician
- Peter Graves, actor
- J.D. Salinger, writer
- Lhasa de Sela, musician
by Eva Holland | 12.14.10 | 2:56 PM ET
The young Huld wrote an account of his adventures which was published in several languages including English, in which it appeared in 1929 as A Boy Scout Around The World. It is known that Hergé read Huld’s account. It was perhaps no coincidence that the character of Tintin surfaced for the first time the same year in Le Petit Vingtieme, the children’s section of a Belgian newspaper. Palle Huld was happy to encourage the notion that he was Hergé‘s inspiration for Tintin. But Hergé, who delighted in utterly baffling Tintinologists by using the phrase “Tintin c’est moi,” liked to keep the source of his world-renowned character shrouded in mystery.
(Via The Book Bench)
by Michael Yessis | 11.29.10 | 11:13 AM ET
by Eva Holland | 11.23.10 | 1:51 PM ET
Philip Hoffman, a ground-breaking surfer who took his first surf trip to Hawaii in 1952, has died in California. He was 80.
The New York Times’ Matt Higgins writes that Hoffman’s “pioneering big-wave riding in Hawaii in the 1950s charted the way for surfing pilgrimages to Oahu’s North Shore from around the world.”
The Surfer’s Journal publisher Steve Pezman calls him “the first guy on the North Shore.”
by Michael Yessis | 10.19.10 | 11:50 AM ET
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