Since I seem to have fallen behind on updating my Events page, I wanted to announce that I’ll be giving a travel presentation in the Dallas area this weekend as part of the Irving Chautauqua series at the Irving Public Library. The event starts at 2 p.m. on Saturday, February 13 at the Central Library, 801 W. Irving Blvd. The program is free and open to all ages.
Other venues that will be hosting Rolf-events in coming months include: the University of Kansas (late March); the Popular Culture Association conference in St. Louis (early April); Wittenberg University in Ohio (late April); the Paris American Academy (all of July); a small-group travel-writing workshop in Reykjavik, Iceland (early August); and the Book Passage Travel Writer’s Conference in San Francisco’s North Bay (mid-August). I’ll add details on my Events page as I know them.
Rolf poses with one his favorite travel-writing role-models, adventure scribe Tim Cahill, at Northern California’s Book Passage Conference in August
Toward the end of each year I usually post a round-up of my travel highlights from the previous 12 months. This year I’ve been diligent enough with additions to the “Rolf’s News and Updates” category that I don’t feel I have many new 2009 details to share. Hence, I’ll just share a few images from some of my favorite (photographable) moments this year:
One of my earliest overseas journeys in 2009 was a February trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. My account of the experience, “St. Petersburg, Vampire-Style,” appears in the December 2009 issue of Afar Magazine. If you read the article, you’ll learn more about the teens pictured above, who taught me the choicest Russian swear words during a wee-hour foray into a bar called Mod.
Perhaps my favorite story assignment of 2009 required me to infiltrate a Star Trek fan-cruise from New York to Bermuda. My five-part account of the experience, “Where No Travel Writer Has Gone Before,” appeared in World Hum (along with a teaser video) in November. Part III of the series revolves around the Star Trek theme-wedding of Wayne and Rita Applegate (pictured above).
As has been tradition in recent years, July found me in France, where I run a month-long creative writing workshop at the Paris American Academy. One of the highlights of the summer for me (pictured above) was reading from my newest book, Marco Polo Didn’t Go There, at the legendary Shakespeare & Company Bookstore on the Left Bank (video of the reading online here and here).
I spent a lot of time in 2009 working and hanging out on my farm in Kansas. I enjoyed many peaceful and sublime moments on the prairie this year, but one of the most fascinating events I witnessed was when Tiffany, my nephews’ Limousin heifer, gave birth to a bull calf, which we named “Wally” (pictured above in my north pasture, just minutes after he was born).
I visit a number of travel-writing events each year, but few can compete with the sheer exuberance and camaraderie of the Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference each August in San Francisco’s North Bay. My key contribution to the festivities this year was leading the peanut gallery in an a capella rendition of the Muppets anthem, “Manah Manah.” That’s me in the far right of the above photo; also visible (in roughly left-to-right order) is guidebook publisher Pauline Frommer, Travelers’ Tales publisher Larry Habegger, San Francisco Chronicle travel editor Spud Hilton, World Hum editor Jim Benning, novelist and travel writer Linda Watanabe McFerrin, and travel-writing legend Tim Cahill. [Photo by Joel Carillet, as is the Cahill shot above]
A good portion of my travel in 2009 took the form of various public speaking events in 5 U.S. states and 3 overseas countries, including (but not limited to) the LA Times Travel Show, the Tucson Book Festival, the Kansas Book Awards, the DO Lectures (in Wales), the Chatwin Prize festival (in Italy), and the 100th anniversary celebration of worldwide youth hosteling (pictured above, in Boston). For more detailed descriptions of my 2009 adventures, check out my prior blog updates from November, October, June, or March. [Photo by Keith Levit]
Back in September I traveled to rural Wales for the excellent DO Lectures series, which features talks and presentations by cutting-edge experts from a wide variety of disciplines — from mountaineers to sustainable architects to graphic designers. I spoke on vagabonding and the ethic of long-term travel, and video from that lecture is now available online. My talk is in keeping with similar presentations I’ve done for my Vagabonding and Marco Polo Didn’t Go There books — only this time (in keeping with the spirit of the gathering) I challenged the audience to make “do” oriented goals for their lives. One of these “do” goals was to see time as your truest form of wealth in life — to live out your days in an extraordinary way. My second challenge was to be where you are now — to live a life that is less mediated and more informed by the people and places that surround you. The entire lecture can be viewed online here.
Here’s what else I’ve been up to lately:
Just a quick heads-up to let everyone know I have a 5-part travel series appearing online at World Hum this week. Entitled “Where No Travel Writer Has Gone Before,” it documents my experience on a Star Trek-themed sea-cruise to Bermuda. What’s it like to travel the earth with people who’d rather be in outer space? Find out by reading the series, which will appear in episodic installments each day this week. A video teaser (which includes theme music by film-score composers Rolfe Kent and Meredith Meyer) is online here.
Elsewhere, my gonzo Russia dispatch, “St. Petersburg, Vampire-Style,” appears in the current issue of Afar Magazine. This story recounts the deliriously boozy experience of exploring the streets of St. Petersburg in the wee hours of the morning, while suffering three consecutive nights of jet lag. Afar has yet to post online content, but the magazine is available at most newsstands.
[Rolf and Kansas first lady Stacy Parkinson
at the Kansas Book Awards in Topeka.]
A year after its initial publication, my book Marco Polo Didn’t Go There has started to receive some awards at the state, national, and international level. A few weeks ago I mentioned that it had received a Kansas Book Award; now, just yesterday, I learned that it has also won a Lowell Thomas Award from the Society of American Travel Writers. “This series of traveler stories is provocative and compelling,” the judges wrote. “Rolf Potts’ style is personal and the narrative quality high. It’s not for the typical tourist, but rather, for readers seeking adventurous experiences.”
The most notable award for the book, however, comes from Italy’s Premio Chatwin Festival, which has selected Marco Polo Didn’t Go There as the recipient of the 2009 Chatwin Prize for travel literature. Mine is the first American-authored book to receive the prize, and I’m the first English-language author to win since Jason Elliot took the prize in 2007. Bruce Chatwin’s widow Elizabeth presides over the festival, which takes place in Genoa from November 11-14. A rundown of previous winners is online (in Italian) here.
In tandem with my trip to Italy, I’ll doing a fall mini-tour on the U.S. East Coast. Dates and events are as follows:
- November 14th, 2009 Genoa, Online info
Premio Chatwin, Italy’s premier festival of travel writing, photography, and video; queries can be sent to premiochatwin (at) gmail.com.
- November 17th, 2009 Metuchen, 8:00pm, Online info
The Raconteur, Public reading from Marco Polo Didn’t Go There and other works. 431 Main St, Metuchen, NJ; (732) 906-0009
- November 19th, 2009 Staten Island 5:00pm, Online info
College of Staten Island, International Education Week, travel seminar with
New York Times writer Matt Gross
- November 20th, 2009 Boston, early afternoon, Online info
Hosteling International 75th Anniversary Conference, independent travel panel with Tony Wheeler and Jeff Greenwald
There’s a chance I’ll add another event in Boston — as well as a reading at the University of Kansas in early December. Please check my Events page for updates in coming weeks.
Part I: Rolf reads from Marco Polo Didn’t Go There
Over on my RolfPotts.com video page, I recently uploaded a two-part video of my July 2009 reading at Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore in Paris. I’ve informally read essays there in the past (alongside students from my annual writing workshop at the Paris American Academy) but this is the first time I’ve done an official event for the bookstore’s Monday-evening reading series. Other authors who’ve participated in this series include Jonathan Safran Foer, Michelle Tea, Dave Eggers, and the fictional writer played by Ethan Hawke in Richard Linklater’s 2004 film Before Sunset.
Because it was rainy on the day of my reading, my event took place on the second floor of the bookstore. The light coming in from the window behind me compromises the picture quality on the video, but the audio comes through just fine. Part I of the video (embedded above) will be familiar to anyone who’s attended my Marco Polo Didn’t Go There book events: I read from my “Tantric Sex For Dilettantes” chapter, then go on to read the humorous annotations from Chapter 15, which highlight the idiosyncrasies of a character named Mr. Ibrahim.
The second part of the video (embedded below) features a Q&A session with the Shakespeare and Co. audience. Topics I discuss include the ethics of tourist economies, the sometimes-tainted reputation of travel writing, how one can get to know a city through a single neighborhood block, the anthropology of tourist behavior, the idea that refugees are the true “adventure travelers,” the origin of the title “Marco Polo Didn’t Go There,” Bruce Chatwin’s decision to not include Salman Rushdie in The Songlines, and the future of travel writing in the digital age.
Part II: Q&A about the ethics and idiosyncrasies of travel writing
Next month I’ll be a speaker and panelist at the Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference, which takes place just north of San Francisco, in Corte Madera, California. The conference runs from August 13-16, and features such travel-writer luminaries as Tim Cahill, Isabel Allende, Don George, Pauline Frommer, Jim Benning, Jen Leo, Linda Watanabe McFerrin, Amanda Jones, Larry Habegger, John Flinn, and Michael Shapiro. I’ll speak on a number of panels, including “Developing a Website for Writers,” “Advanced Strategies for Freelancers,” “Polishing the Travel Article for Submission,” and “Extreme Travel: Pushing the Envelope.” Full schedule of events at Book Passage is online here.
Book Passage Conference organizer Don George tells me enrollment is down this year, which means there should be plenty of slots left in this very informative (and, speaking from past experience, insanely fun) gathering of professional and aspiring travel writers. This conference has launched many travel-writing careers in the past, so if you live in or near the San Francisco Bay Area (or if you’re game for a summer road trip to northern California), please consider coming out! General information about the conference is online here.
Elsewhere in the world, I’ll be also taking part in The DO Lectures in West Wales, U.K., from September 3-7. This speaking series (which includes lectures from environmentalists, mountaineers, business CEOs, organic farmers, inventors, graphic designers, and architects) is meant to inspire people to follow their passions and DO what they’ve always dreamed of doing. Naturally, I’ll be talking about the art and ethic of long-term travel. More information on the event is online here.
Finally, should you find yourself in Paris this month, I’ll be reading at the legendary Shakespeare and Company Bookstore on July 27th, one week from today. The event starts at 5:30pm, with select readings from my students at the Paris American Academy Creative Writing Workshop. I’ll take the mic at 7:00pm, and read selections from Marco Polo Didn’t Go There, as well as recent and unpublished works. More information about the event online here.
[Also online is this video profile of Shakespeare and Company, as well as its cameo appearance in Richard Linklater's Before Sunset (which starred Julia Delpy and Ethan Hawke).]
Recent weeks have seen me travel out to Bermuda for World Hum, across Kansas for The Believer, and off to Russia for Afar; articles about these experiences will debut in coming months. Here’s what else has been going on for me in the travel-publishing world:
- My Italian publisher, Ponte alle Grazie, recently sent me the cover art for Marco Polo non ci e mai stato — the Italian translation of Marco Polo Didn’t Go There. Considering that Ponte alle Grazie did such a nice job of translating and promoting Vagabonding (“L’Arte Di Girare il Mondo”) for Italian audiences several years ago, I have high hopes for this translation of my new book, which debuts in July. Elsewhere, the English edition of Marco Polo Didn’t Go There was a finalist in ForeWord Magazine‘s indie-press “Book of the Year” listings — and just last week the State Library of Kansas included my book as the lone travel narrative among the 15 titles on its 2009 Notable Book list. “[Potts's] portrayal of his life on the road is captivating,” the announcement read, “with some stories that are hilarious and others that are absolutely terrifying.”
- Speaking of translations, I recently had a story appear in the New Delhi-based Sunday Indian, which bills itself as “The Only News Magazine On Earth in 14 Languages”. My vagabonding-themed story, “Travel Long, Travel Cheap,” was part of a special travel issue that included articles by Eric Weiner, Peter Moore, Jim Rogers, and Robert Young Pelton. I also recently wrote a couple of very short opinion pieces for Poets & Writers and The Chronicle of Higher Education; an essay about Australian Aboriginal art for mental floss; and “Like Spirits in the Night,” a Laos-based travel tale for Outside’s GO (note that Gregg Segal’s excellent shot of me taking notes in the tropics was actually staged in the Los Angeles hills after a Marco Polo book event in Pasadena last fall).
- My recent “Ask Rolf” columns at World Hum have included a piece on dealing with race while traveling, an argument against using Twitter while you travel, recommendations on cheap places to travel during the economic slump, and advice on how to break your vagabonding dreams to your family.
- Travel Blissful interviewed me back in March as did my friend, former student, and Romanian travel-TV personality Razvan Marc (the introduction is in Romanian, but the Q&A itself is in English). On the other side of the interview table, I recently talked to a number of travel authors for my RolfPotts.com Writers page, including Lost City of Z author David Grann, Travel Therapy author Karen Schaler, and Geography of Bliss author Eric Weiner.
- On a final note, another Potts scribe has made online news of late: AbeBooks.com announced that its 100 millionth book to be listed was none other than A Checklist of the Vertebrate Animals of Kansas (1991), by George Potts. Congrats, Dad!
Having just returned home after traveling to Russia on assignment for Afar Magazine, I realize it’s been awhile since I’ve blogged about my newest essays and interviews. Here’s what I’ve been up to, writing-wise, in recent weeks:
- One of my favorite essays of late was Che: The Ronald McDonald of Revolution, which I wrote for World Hum around the time Steven Soderbergh’s Che Guevara biopic was hitting movie screens. Since my essay takes issue with both those who adore Che and those who hate him, I expected a fair amount of angry comments when it debuted — though to date the reaction has been mostly positive (with the exception of one delightfully incoherent email from an Ivy League Marxist).
- Another essay I expected to generate colorful comments was One Traveling Man’s Weak-Dollar Dating Survival Kit, a humorous take on international romance. Originally assigned to me by a female colleague, it was killed by a skittish male editor at Forbes and later picked up by World Hum. Fortunately, most readers, male and female, have taken it for what it is: a tongue-in-cheek riff on how travel can make you more attractive to the opposite sex (and how a little bit of culture-specific information can’t hurt your romantic odds).
- Elsewhere, I recently wrote the lead essay for a special budget-travel issue of The Guardian. Entitled Around the world on shoestring, the essay uses my experiences with Cuban bagpipers and Prague youth hostels to illustrate how low-budget travel often yields the most interesting — and unexpected — experiences on the road.
- My recent “Ask Rolf” columns at World Hum have included a Slumdog Millionaire-inspired take on dealing with child beggars overseas, an inauguration-inspired perspective on how an Obama presidency will affect American travelers, and a brief take on safe travel in the Middle East.
- In late February I had the honor of being interviewed by 88-year-old public-radio legend Walt Bodine (who over the years has interviewed the likes of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr). This interview, which took place at Kansas City’s NPR affiliate, can be found online in mp3 form here.
- Other recent interviews include Q&A exchanges with Nomadic Matt (which touches on how Vagabonding is being received six years after its publication), JetSetLife.tv (which touches on my recent forays into travel television), and a two-part interview with German journalist and “lifestyle design” specialist Markus Albers (Part I; Part II).
- Though I haven’t added much to my online travel-photo galleries in recent years, I did recently add the Falklands Wildlife Gallery — a penguin-centric collection of photos I took in the Falkland Islands one year ago, while on assignment for National Geographic Traveler.
- Finally, Travelers’ Tales just released The Best Travel Writing 2009, which includes an introduction by Tony Perrottet, a Cambodia essay by yours truly, and “Shopping for Dirndls,” which Jill Paris developed in my nonfiction writing workshop at the Paris American Academy last summer. Another of my 2008 Paris students, Haifa Mahabir, won a Solas Award in travel writing for her essay “A Writer in Paris: On the Road of Vision Seekers,” and former Vagablogger Stacey Tuel’s essay “My Mexican Housewife” landed in The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2009. Congrats everyone!
- For information on my upcoming events, including appearances at the University of Kansas, the Tucson Book Festival, the National Popular Culture Association conference (in New Orleans), and the Paris American Academy creative writing workshop, check out my Events page.
Before we get too far into 2009, I should probably try to sum up some of my travel-writing highlights from last year. Interestingly, my two most prominent happenings in recent months — the release of my second book and my TV hosting debut on the Travel Channel — weren’t even on my radar at the beginning of 2008. Indeed, it wasn’t until late January of last year that Travelers’ Tales approached me about what would eventually become Marco Polo Didn’t Go There — and the Travel Channel didn’t put “American Pilgrim” onto my plate until June.
Here’s a quick rundown of what I did (in professional realm, at least) in 2008: