new travel writing for a precarious century

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Llangennith Rhossili Worm Head image by Sarah Morgan Jones

Steven Lovat

“It’s a weird time to do a travel diary,” said a friend, and there was no need to ask her what she meant. At the start of spring 2022, the Covid-19 pandemic that emerged two years ago further complicates travel to an extent barely comprehensible for us, post-war Western generations who had taken its possibility for granted.

Amid the hardships and annoyances of separation from family members, postponed travel and the reluctant acceptance of video ‘reunions’, the Covid-spurred need to rethink how and why we travel, and whether we really should doing as briskly as we once did, coincided with other interconnected and equally urgent emergencies.

Before the mid-twentieth century, leisure travel was largely the preserve of a wealthy elite, and it could easily become so again, even if the combined disasters of climate collapse, the pandemic, and persecution move millions of people on journeys they would never have taken. wished.

The dream of global interconnection on free market terms exposes its contradictions at its greatest fulfillment.

The title of this anthology is borrowed from Jan Morris, who wrote to Owain Glyndŵr that “if the mountains separated Wales from England, the long coast was like an open door to the world”.

Specific anxieties

It was a strong and sudden sense of cultural loss and disorientation, brought on by Morris’ passing, that made me conceive of the book as something of an affirmation, and the image of an open door seems apt to contain all the realities and possibilities facing Wales in these dangerous times, from the open door for refugees from Afghanistan to the Welsh Government’s proposals to dissuade its young people from seeking ‘better prospects’ beyond the country, and appeals to defend Welsh identity against a new movement of wealthy immigrants.

All this against a backdrop – no stranger to Glyndŵr – of growing calls for self-determination and the recent closure, unprecedented in centuries, of the Welsh-English border, but this time as a measure against the spread of Covid-19.

In light of all this, an anthology of travel and place writing seems, at second glance, perfectly timed. Indeed, from another angle, it was long overdue, for to my knowledge, although Wales has been written about for centuries, primarily as a sort of dream theater for aesthetes and English capitalists, never before have Welsh and Welsh authors been asked to ‘rewrite’ about their experiences as travelers in and out of the country.

An Open Door is also quite possibly one of the first travel anthologies in any language to be published since the pandemic began and, despite the fully realized individuality of its stories, the distinctive anxieties of our times are everywhere apparent in what amounts to a late radical change in the genre of travel writing itself.

This change is similar to those that recently breathed new life into the closely related genre of nature writing. Historically, nature writing has tended to overlook the historical and cultural specificities, experiences and daily lives of those who actually inhabit “nature”, while its exclusivity, linked to a persistent privilege of the “expert male, deprived people of a voice – disproportionately women, children, the elderly, and otherwise culturally marginalized people – who lacked the ability to move and write at leisure or whose perspectives were simply not valued.

Curiosity and humility

At the same time, it is not so difficult to see Wales as having been historically overrepresented (and therefore distorted) by more or less voyeuristic and exotic writers from elsewhere, nor to appreciate, therefore, the relevance of ‘a Welsh challenge to what in travel writing, as in nature writing, is a pro-Sunday supplement hegemony of the soothing, “uplifting,” and unexceptional.

An Open Door can certainly be interpreted as a challenge to this hegemony, and its contributors as representing, in the diversity of their backgrounds and experiences, a new and much needed realism in the genre.

Together, the stories of An Open Door extend Jan Morris’ legacy into a turbulent present and an even more uncertain future. In so doing, and through the sheer intellectual entertainment they provide, they not only irrigate Welsh literary culture, but affirm all cultures and individuals who still value the curiosity and humility inherent in travel, and the deepening of one’s relationships with places and their inhabitants.

Whether we see them from Llŷn or from the Somali desert, we always take turns looking at the same stars, and it is perhaps this recognition, above all, that encourages us to hold the door open a little longer.

An open door: new travel writing for a precarious century is edited by Steven Lovatt with contributions from Eluned Gramich, Grace Quantock, Faisal Ali, Sophie Buchaillard, Giancarlo Gemin Siân Melangell Dafydd, Mary-Ann Constantine, Kandace Siobhan Walker, Neil Gower, Julie Brominicks and EE Rhodes

It will be published by Parthian in May. and can be pre-ordered here

Steven Lovatt is the author of Birdsong in a Time of Silence (Particular Books, 2021), and over the past decade his critical articles on Welsh literature, in particular Dorothy Edwards and Margiad Evans, have appeared in New Welsh Review, Planet, Critical Survey, AWWE Yearbook and Literary Encyclopedia.
He reviews poetry for The Friday Poem, teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Bristol and edits books on ethnography and philosophy from his home in Swansea.

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