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November 8, 2002

Exploring New Meanings of Travel in Contemporary Travel Writing

Ian Buruma

Caryl Phillips

Nancy Novogrod '71

"Travel" embraces a world of meanings. While it can be mundane (to travel simply means to move from one place to another), it can also hold within it the promise of transformation. It is necessity and extravagance; entertainment and pilgrimage; exploration and escape; challenge and repose. As humans, we journey metaphorically—moving, for example, from one developmental stage to another. We move around the world as tourists, merchants, voyagers, immigrants, and refugees; and we read ourselves around the world in travelers' tales.

These and other concepts that form our shifting ideas of travel will be the topic of discussion Thursday, November 14, when the Weissman Center for Leadership presents "New Meanings of Travel in Contemporary Travel Writing," a panel presentation featuring a distinguished group of guest experts. The panelists are Ian Buruma, journalist and novelist; Caryl Phillips, novelist, travel writer, and professor of English at Barnard College; and Nancy Novogrod '71, senior vice president and editorial director of American Express Publishing and editor-in-chief of Travel + Leisure. Michael Gorra, professor of English at Smith College, will moderate. In addition to the panel presentation, the Weissman Center has arranged, in conjunction with various departments, for panelists to meet informally with students and faculty. The evening is part of the Weissman Center's Destinations: New Meanings of Travel series, cosponsored by the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, the Center for Environmental Literacy, and the MHC Arts Committee. The event takes place at 7:30 pm in the Art Building's Gamble Auditorium.

Panelists will address such questions as: What new ways of writing and thinking about travel have recently emerged? How has globalization—cultural, economic, and demographic—changed our sense of travel? And why is tourism one of the world's biggest industries?

"The hope," says moderator Gorra, "is to look at these questions from many different angles, by putting together people whose work deals with very different aspects of travel. While Nancy Novogrod is, perhaps, primarily concerned with travel as a business and a form of leisure, Caryl Phillips and Ian Buruma both use travel as a mode of witness and political exploration. These are kinds of travel that don't often talk to each other."

As editor-in-chief of one the world's most widely circulated magazines, Travel + Leisure, Novogrod sees many points of convergence between the world of the tourist and that of the traveler/voyager. "Witness is probably the deepest function of travel, but it is also a form of entertainment. It takes you out of your everyday life, into a reality distinct from your own. That experience is liberating and often ennobling. Travel offers an opportunity to find yourself through escaping the everyday and removing some of the familiar elements of your surroundings so that you can not only see new parts of the world but also see new parts of yourself."

Adding yet another layer to the subject, the panelists will themselves travel to Mount Holyoke from points in the United States and abroad. Novogrod—whose travels in the last few weeks have taken her to Asia, Hawaii, Palm Beach, and Italy—says that in a sense, coming back to Mount Holyoke, where she graduated with a degree in art history, is different from these other voyages. Says Novogrod, "I view visiting Mount Holyoke as coming home."

About the Panelists and Moderator

Ian Buruma
Buruma was educated in Holland and Japan and has spent many years in Asia. He writes political and cultural commentary on Asia for a number of Western publications and is the author of a novel and many works of nonfiction. His latest book is Bad Elements: Chinese Rebels from Los Angeles to Beijing.

Michael Gorra
Gorra teaches courses on English and American fiction at Smith College. He is the author of The English Novel at Mid-Century: From the Leaning Tower and After Empire: Scott, Naipaul, Rushdie. Gorra is a prolific book reviewer for the New York Times Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement, and other journals. He is currently at work on a travel book about Germany.

Nancy Novogrod '71
In addition to her role as editor-in-chief of Travel + Leisure, Novogrod is editorial director of American Express Publishing Corporation, where she oversees Departures, T+L Golf, T+L Family, and various development projects. Novogrod is a former trustee of Mount Holyoke.

Caryl Phillips
Born in Saint Kitts, West Indies, and educated at Oxford, Phillips is the author of eight books, including Atlantic Sound, as well as numerous scripts for film, theater, radio, and television. He is a professor of English at Barnard College.

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