A happy new year to all my readers!
I’ve waited a long time to write that line, but with 700-plus names on my e-mail essay list and others reading my blogs on Facebook, I can now claim to have a modest readership, maybe even the odd fan. Thanks to all of you who have read my stuff, bought a copy of Postcards from Stanland: Journeys in Central Asia and had me sign it, sent me comments and corrections, or all of the above. It’s a good feeling to know that something I love doing helps people understand a little more about the wonderful, crazy world in which we live, and even makes them laugh about it.
As a writer, 2017 was a productive year. I say productive, rather than profitable, because I still haven’t figured out how to make a living from writing. I earn a few hundred dollars here and there—for a published feature, or a university or library lecture—and, twice a year, a few hundred more in royalties from the Ohio University Press. I’m fortunate that international development and government agencies pay for me to travel to fascinating places such as Antananarivo, Blantyre, Dhaka, Hyderabad and Tezpur to work for them. Of course, writing travel blogs is not on their lists of “deliverables,” but I relish the opportunity the trips provide for writing. Without the support of UNICEF, I would never have taken a two-day road trip on Route Nationale 7 to southern Madagascar, or hung out at Sujoy Vai’s Route 6 restaurant cum coffee house cum smoothie bar in Rajshahi in western Bangladesh.
A couple of non-travel pieces got some play this year. A feature for History News Network that linked current controversies over statues of Confederate generals to historical schizophrenia over Lenin statues in the former Soviet Union, “Down with Stonewall Jackson! He’s just like Lenin,” http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/166832 stirred up a small hornet’s nest over the Civil War and historical memory. It was republished in Transitions Online, which covers politics, economy and culture in the former Soviet Union, as “Lessons from Lenin.” My British boarding school memoir was published in a literary magazine, Broad Street, as “School of Hope and Glory: Britain’s Imperial Mission and How One Public School Lad Failed It,” http://broadstreetonline.org/?s=mould People connected with it in different ways. Some of them wanted to hug me.
Most of my writing energy this year was devoted to my second book on travel, history and culture—Monsoon Postcards: Indian Ocean Journeys, the sequel to Postcards from Stanland. As I write in the introduction: “This book has a broader geographical sweep … describing a circuitous arc around the Indian Ocean with insights into the history, geography, politics, economy, climate and belief systems of five countries where I’ve traveled and worked over the last decade. From Madagascar, I head across the Mozambique Channel and up the Zambezi River to Malawi, a country linked to the Indian Ocean by exploration, slavery and trade. Then I leap across the Arabian Sea to the Indian sub-continent. India defies generalizations because of its social, ethnic and religious diversity. My narrative begins in the capital Delhi, then broadens out in space and time, exploring the colonial legacy, the partition of British India, and the country’s demographic, economic and environmental challenges. From the north, I move to the ancient kingdom of Hyderabad, and finally to the under-developed “chicken-neck,” India’s Appalachia, the northeastern states of Assam and Meghalaya. Then I follow the Brahmaputra River south to Bangladesh, a country defined by its bitter struggle for independence. From the chaotic traffic and garment factories of Dhaka, I travel to the rice bowl and commercial centers of western Bangladesh, to the tea gardens of the northeast and to the delta region—the front line for climate change. My journey ends in Indonesia—at Banda Aceh, ground zero for the 2004 tsunami, the noise and traffic of the capital, Jakarta, ancient Yogyakarta, and the beaches and back country of Bali.”
Phew! Quite a journey. I’ve previewed a few stories in essays and blogs, but there’s much more for you to read. We expect the book to be published in early to mid-2019.
I want to thank several people who have helped me on my writing journey. The staff of the Ohio University Press, particularly Gill Berchowitz, Nancy Basmaijan, Jeff Kallet and Samara Rafert. My social media guru, Marilyn Wrenn. The writer Cat Pleska—I started writing the boarding school piece in her memoir writing class and she encouraged me to keep going. The wonderful members of my writing group, Fran Simone and Kathy Manley. And, of course, my wife Stephanie Hysmith, who has always supported me in my writing.
In 2018 I’ll be back to Bangladesh on a new contract for UNICEF. More postcards to come!
Happy new year!