A real institution is coming to an end this year. Last month, we learned that the 2021 edition of The best American travel writing – guest edited by Padma Lakshmi – would be the last of the series. The new volume continues the series’ tradition of collecting the works of renowned authors, with the 2021 edition featuring contributions from Bill Buford, Leslie Jamison and Kiese Laymon. But the news that it will be the final installment has prompted some to reflect on the series’ legacy – and the current state of travel writing as a whole.
Thomas Swick, the author of – most recently – The joys of travel: and stories that illuminate them, chose to have a grandiose view of the end of The best American travel writing in an essay for Literary Hub. Swick notes that “this move is particularly disheartening for a genre that has gradually and, for those of us who love it, lost its appeal in mystifying ways,” while also acknowledging some criticism of the genre.
Swick goes on to say that the internet has been a big factor in the shrinking of travel writing. “Who needs travel writers, you might ask, as hundreds of bloggers type their conclusions, thousands of tourists post their videos, millions of vacationers tweet? ” he writes.
Towards the end of his essay, Swick quotes Pamela petro The long field – a book by an American author about his collection in rural Wales – as an example of notable recent travel writing. Petro’s book, he notes, is presented as a memoir. But it’s also worth pointing out that how a book is sold may have little to do with its purposes – and if notable travel writings emerge but categorized as memoirs or essays, it seems much less painful than to lose an entire genre, period.
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