Thinking of Travel
by: Hazel Singer, Blogger and writer for BlackPast.org
There are many reasons to travel. Two of them are relaxation and education. Many people plan trips to countries and/or cultures of origin; trips within their own country to learn about the lives and histories of family and friends; visits to museums and other cultural institutions. If physical travel is not an option, there is much to recommend the practice of armchair exploration through books, both fiction and non-fiction.
Can't decide where to start? Pick up a copy of Margaret Busby's magnificent compendium, Daughters of Africa An International Anthology of Words and Writing by Women of African Descent from the Ancient Egyptian to the Present: reading an excerpt from any one of these women, from any place in the world, will be a jumping off place for adventurous travel! Pick a place, pick a time period, and you're off!
Traveling in the United States and Canada: the Black Museum page at BlackPast.org is a great resource. The museums are organized by state, making trip planning easier. BlackPast.org also has a Bibliography of 101 African American novels. There are sure to be inspirations for exploration and travel on this list. These books help create a context and sense of place and people that adds richness to information found in the museums. The website Discover Black America has current listings for events, exhibitions, tours, restaurants, as well as listings for Black Colleges: visiting colleges is a great organizing principle for a family vacation. Be sure to check out photographer Dawoud Bey's retrospective Portraits of 1970s Harlem currently showing at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Seeking travel to lost worlds and back in time? Check out, Once Upon A Time When We Were Colored by Clifton L.Taulbert, about life in small town Mississippi when segregation meant a town was either black or white. Three books by Edward P. Jones, Lost in the City, The Known World, and Aunt Hagar's Children are stunning in their descriptions of urban life in Washington, D.C. and a fictional county in Virginia during slavery.
For a different slice of early American life, read When London Was Capital of America by Julie Flavel. Prior to the American Revolution, wealthy plantation owners took their families and slaves off to London for...shopping trips and other forms of cultural enrichment! These visits lasted three months or more. A portion of the book deals with one of these slaves, Scipio, who renamed himself Robert Laurens and ended up staying in London, feeling comfortably at home in a place with the 15,000 other black inhabitants.
Peek into rarefied worlds by reading Stephen L.Carter's Emperor of Ocean Park, set in Martha's Vineyard. It is both a story of suspense as well as a look at upper crust African American society and an Ivy League law school. Step into the 1960s and identity politics in the black middle class bourgeoisie when reading Darryl Pinckney's High Cotton.
Travel to the Caribbean by armchair, boat, or plane through the eyes of Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory and Krik? Krak! Britain's Caryl Phillips' Crossing the River offers yet another point of view. Jamaica Kinkaid will take you to the West Indies with her highly acclaimed books Lucy and Annie John. Any thoughts of historical Haiti would not be complete without reading Madison Smartt Bell's All Souls' Rising, Master of the Crossroads, and biography of Toussaint Louverture.
Paris or Berlin? Check out Esi Edugyan's Half-Blood Blues, a book that straddles Baltimore, Berlin, and Paris from the 1930's to the 1980's. Based on a true story about a Black German musician and the rise of Nazi Germany. Until the Second World War, there were a significant number of Black Germans tracing their origins back to Germany's colonies in Africa: they were recruited to fight in the Napoleonic Wars. Paris is a great place to explore the lives of African American expat artists as well as the rich cultural addition of immigrants from former French colonies in Africa. So much so, that an enterprising travelista has created guided tours for individuals and groups.
For more info on Black Paris Tours click here.
Still need ideas? Find a map, find some books, create your own adventure.