Why I started a 'travel writers of color' book club

Bani Amor, CNN | 11/8/2017, 6 a.m.
On the first day of a travel writing workshop I attended back in 2011, I asked the instructor if he ...
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We do what we believe we can do, and we believe what we see. Without seeing anyone else doing it, we can feel isolated or dissuaded altogether. Sometimes, even worse is when writers of color write travel in ways that just follow the same old script instead of forging new styles or connecting to their ancestral modes of storytelling that honor the fullness of their narratives.

When we see ourselves represented, whether it's someone queer or disabled or an immigrant or whatever, it grants us the tools with which to do justice to our histories, and the power to choose where we may go in the future.

Forming a community

Later in 2016, I conducted a Twitter poll asking users if they had ever read a travel book by a person of color, and 83 percent of 325 voters said no. I wasn't surprised, but it got more people curious in travel lit by people of color, and more folks to join our little group.

Members send in their recommendations, books they've been meaning to read or heard about but haven't gotten to. Once we choose a book, we read and discuss them over a group video chat at the end of each month. I put together questions that get us talking on everything from race, gender and sex to style, structure and voice, but we laugh a hell of a lot and go off on tangents about our own experiences on the road.

It helps that most of us are writers or aspiring writers who have a stake in the diversification in the industry of travel media, folks who are hungry for inspiration, validation and challenge, aspects that are largely missing from the greater travel space. Langston Hughes, Jamaica Kincaid, bell hooks—these writers penned our classics. It's time they be honored, even if it's in an online book club, because there's revolutionary potential in a small group of nerds sharing ideas.

Later in that writing workshop I attended, the instructor remembered "Running in the Family" by Michael Ondaatje, and sang its structural praises.

I was grateful for the recommendation, and when we were prompted to pitch potential round ups in the class, my first idea was an article called Ten Travel Books by People of Color, a piece I eventually got to realize.

Sure, it was a small step for a young freelancer just getting started in the biz, but I wrote it knowing that one day my own book will join the canon of my literary ancestors, hoping that a few nerds might pick it up, and maybe one of them will write their own. I can't wait to read it.