Going places

January term is almost over, and I’m thinking about next week’s trip to AWP.  This is the third time in the last six months that I’ve looked up from the muck of a ludicrous teaching load to contemplate escaping on a conference trip, and once again, I am really looking forward to it.  I’ve been feeling a little guilty, though, ever since I read Mark Pedelty’s piece this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the contribution of academic travel to global warming.  (Though did anyone else have a giggle at the line in his bio which reads “He and a group of colleagues are now planning a virtual conference for the purpose of developing more effective means of virtual conferencing”?) 

The last three decades, from airline deregulation to carbon-footprint-awareness, which have also coincided with the rise of the MFA program, will undoubtedly be looked back upon as the era of the Writer as Frequent Traveler.  It’s been the era of the fourteen-city book tour, of the university-based or -affiliated reading series, and of the writer who can live in  both New York City and Houston, Texas, or even Telluride, Las Cruces and Houston

Nothing will bring this home to you like hearing a Booker Prize-winning novelist and a former Poet Laureate of the United States discuss the best carry-on luggage.  Even I have raised some dust traveling around giving readings and that sort of thing; consulting my C.V., which probably isn’t exhaustive, I note readings in seven different states, and that doesn’t count conferences in several other states and a couple of other countries. 

But now we are entering the era of carbon offsets and the virtual book tour (which really can work surprisingly well).  And maybe, a decade or two hence, writers won’t be such frequent flyers.  Just this week, I saw an awe-inspiring presentation at New RU on the various fabulous technologies the university supports, including podcasts, virtual conferences, conferencing-enabled classrooms, and plans for its own YouTube channel; here’s Berkeley’s

However, I’ve got my tickets, and soon my bags will be packed.  Can’t hardly wait.


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