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Travel Writing: Genre and Adventure, Ecology and Business

ENGL 221.301
Tuesday 1:30–4:30

As its subtitle suggests, this course has multiple and overlapping aims. We will study "travel writing" as a literary genre, attempting to define its characteristics from, say, the Biblical Book of Exodus to contemporary guides and memoirs. We will consider how each traveller tells the adventure of a particular journey; in travel writing, everything that happens (random encounters, missed planes, bad weather) is golden, since everything can be turned into writing. Travel has now become a global phenomenon, especially among young people who may wish to travel or take a "gap year" before settling down. The government of China, for example, is keen for young professionals to fill their houses with consumer goods in order to boost the economy-- but increasingly, young people would rather "buy" experiences than, say, a new dishwasher. The phenomenon of mass travel, however, itself presents some ecological challenges: the larger cruise ships are themselves the size of small towns, and they tend to overwhelm ports where they dock (while not helping local infrastructure when meals are eaten onboard).


"Travel Writing" is thus a broad and capacious subject, and students may adopt a wide range of approaches to explore it. "Travel Writing" is also one of the most successful forms of book publication today: bookstores feature a wall-to-wall "Travel" section (and a very small "Literary Criticism" one). Most travel guides are written by and for younger people, and since they need to be kept up to date they are rewritten every four years or so. The course, then, is intended to attract students from a wide range of backgrounds (ecology and business; literature and Creative Writing) and, hopefully, to suggest some avenues from academic writing to writing for the market.


The first part of the course will see us read a range of texts by way of establishing what can be classified as travel writing; we will study several masters of the genre. We will also study a number of ecological and business issues, and we will meet several people who have made a career from travel (representatives from Penn Alumni Travel; travel writers). Then, crucially, comes Spring break. Students will travel somewhere, recording their experiences as travel writers. Destination is not important: you can travel to Santiago de Compostella, or back home with a bag of dirty washing-- the vital thing is that you must experience your journey as a travel writer, and be prepared to write. After Spring break students will work on drafts on their own travel writing, which will be workshopped in class.  We will read other texts, but the perfecting of each student's travel narrative will be our main aim.


Assessment: one short tune up essay, a standard essay, and then the longer project, with class participation to include presentation of your draft travel writing.

fulfills requirements
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Creative Writing Seminar Requirement of the Creative Writing Track