Postcard from the Philippines

I’ve been meaning to write about my trip to the Philippines for weeks now, but life keeps intervening! In short, it was extraordinary.

The inspiration behind the journey was the 50th anniversary of the National Writers Workshop at Silliman University in Dumaguete, aka the oldest creative writing program in Asia. Founded by two graduates of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop (the venerable Edith and Edilberto Tiempo), the NWW gathers more than a dozen Filipino essayists, novelists, poets, and playwrights around a table for an Iowa-style workshop for three weeks each year. We — the thirty members of Iowa’s Overseas Writing Workshop — arrived just in time to help them celebrate at a gala complete with singing, dancing, “magisterial photos,” and a blow-out feast of lechon (a young roasted pig that is crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and delicious through and through).

From there, we spent about 20 days island-

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Existential Migration

My friend Sree (a Malaysian/Australian writer I recently met in the Philippines) just forwarded a link to a book that seems to encapsulate what I’ve been struggling with for much of my adult life: existential migration. Here’s a snippet from the website of Greg Madison, author of The End of Belonging:

“Unlike economic migration, simple wanderlust, exile, or variations of forced migration, ‘existential migration’ is conceived as a chosen attempt to express something fundamental about existence by leaving one’s homeland and becoming a foreigner.

This concept arose from interviews with voluntary migrants from around the world now living in London. The study generated impressively consistent themes such as the importance of trying to fulfil individual potentials, the importance of freedom and independence, openness to experiences of the mystery of life, and the valuing of difference and foreignness as a stimulus to personal awareness and broadening perspectives.

Among this population there is a marked preference for the strange and foreign over the familiar or conventional. As well as the new concept of existential migration, the research proposes a novel definition of home as interaction; that the ‘feeling …

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Intro to Travel Writing

I’m psyched to announce that I’ll be teaching an 8-week, online Intro to Travel Writing class with Media Bistro, from June 7 – August 2. Here’s the skinny, from their website:

Travel the world and get paid for it? Yes, it’s true! Whether a long weekend in Mendocino or a long walk across Nepal, there’s a market out there for your stories, and a proven path that successful travel writers follow. In this course, you’ll learn how to grow your freelance writing career by mastering one of its most adaptable, engaging genres: travel.

Travel writing is a conduit to many parallel genres, from food to art, politics to technology, and the skills and experience you’ll gain covering travel can be applied to all your writings. In week one, we’ll fully assess the travel writing market (magazines, newspapers, guidebooks, websites, blogs, and more) and set individual writing agendas for the duration of class. In following weeks we’ll reveal the inner workings of the field, showing how travel editors think and what they want from their writers. We’ll diagram the many different …

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48 Hours in Singapore

Apologies for the silence: February was one of the most manic months I’ve had in ages. Not only am I teaching two classes this semester, but I am also taking two classes, so traveling has become quite the juggling act. Two weeks ago, I did one of my craziest trips ever: flew 24 hours to Singapore, stayed 48 hours, and then flew 24 hours back. Between the jetlag and the uber-futuristic architecture, it felt a bit like time-traveling!

So what inspired this journey? A travel writing conference sponsored by the beautiful people at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore. Sixteen scholars and authors from Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, England, and Iowa (!) gathered to discuss the state of travel letters from a variety of lenses and perspectives. Topics included everything from a Bakhtinian reading of nineteenth century women’s writings about Italy to war diaries by Japanese conscripts in the Russo-Japanese War. I gave my first-ever academic paper (well… an essay with a lot of footnotes) called …

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AWP 2011 Recap

Just returned from a manic 48 hours at the “largest literary gathering in North America,” otherwise known as the AWP Conference. Every year, some 8,000 writers, MFA students, and publishers swarm a major metropolitan city and hold hundreds of readings, panels, book signings, and discussions. I was super psyched about speaking on two panels this year, but Snowmaggedon intervened. Iowa City got pummeled with snow drifts and all flights were canceled for two days, meaning I missed my first panel (on Memoir & Latinidad). I finally made it to Washington D.C. around 2:30 a.m. on Friday–and had to moderate a “Women on Wanderlust” panel at 10:30! But grogginess wore off as soon as I met my co-panelists, the lovely Alison Stein Wellner, Johanna Gohmann, and Elisabeth Eaves (all contributors to Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010). Some 200 women–and an ebullient man–showed up to pay homage to the glories of the open road.

Aside from that, the conference’s highlight was catching a performance by Sapphire, author of the novel Push

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Ode to New York City

Feliz New Year, everyone! I’ve just returned from 66 hours in my favorite city on the planet — NYC — which I spent with six of my closest friends. It was the first time I’d been back since my rather disastrous exit a year and a half ago…

I first moved to Brooklyn two weeks after 9/11 and stayed until December 2004, when I left for Mexico to research Mexican Enough. After spending the 2005-2006 academic year at Princeton, I realized the road was wide open. I had lined up some speaking gigs and residencies in the year ahead, but there wasn’t enough income to live anyplace in between — certainly not in the Northeast, anyway. So I took a vow of nomadism and stuffed three-quarters of my belongings into a U-Haul storage facility in Chelsea (Manhattan). It stayed there THREE YEARS, at $100 a month! I knew it was ridiculous to pay so much rent for a few (well, 20) boxes of clothes, photos, books, and mismatched cutlery (plus some errant furniture I’d swiped off the streets …

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