May 28, 2020
As a young Asian female travel writer, Jini Reddy entered a genre that was mostly white and male. But new and emerging voices give her hope for a different future
Why did white men get to have all the fun?: the long road to diverse travel writing
I was born in London, to Indian parents who grew up in apartheid-era South Africa. When I was seven we left Wimbledon for a tiny village in the Laurentian mountains, in Quebec, where our back garden was a wilderness. A year and a half later, we moved again to Montreal and the St Lawrence river flowed at the end of our suburban street. As a child, there was never a moment when I didn’t dream of becoming a writer, or of travelling abroad. But I never saw or read about anyone like me, a small, brown woman, going off and doing adventurous things. I’d see those men – and it was always men – in books and on TV and I’d wonder how they made these things happen. Why did they get to have all the fun? Becoming a travel writer was the dream, spending time in wild landscapes too – for me there is not a great schism between travel writing and narrative nature writing, at least the kind I now enjoy reading.
Long before I even thought it possible to write professionally, I’d make frequent visits to the holy of holies, Stanfords Travel Bookshop. Here I’d trawl the shelves, desperate to read about someone, anyone, who looked like me, or looked at the world through a prism other than the prevailing one. I can still recall my delight when stumbling upon Eddy L Harris’s Native Stranger: A Black American’s Journey into the Heart of Africa. I was fascinated: here was a man with black skin who was seeking to know himself better while roaming in the land of his ancestors. As he put it: “There is a line that connects the place we come from and the place we find ourselves, those lives and our lives. And I longed to follow that line.” This was very different from the escapist, “hero lit”, travelogues written by white men who wrote about the people they encountered and landscapes they traversed as though mere backdrops to their adventuring prowess. Though Harris’s background and experiences were different from my own, they felt infinitely more relatable.
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