In this episode of The Archive Project, we feature Paul Theroux. Theroux is an iconic writer of over fifty books of fiction and nonfiction. Most of his work takes the form of travel writing–a genre he has helped define for the 20th and 21st centuries, as he traveled alone to some of the most remote parts of the world, writing about them with sensitivity, insight, wit, and wonder. He was a global citizen long before such a term existed.
It was his 1975 travelogue The Great Railway Bazaar, which recounted his passage by train from London to Southeast Asia by way of the Middle East and India, and back again on the Trans-Siberian Railway, which brought him to international prominence. In 1986 his novel The Mosquito Coast was adapted for a film starring Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren. His most recent book is the 2021 novel Under the Wave at Waimea.
In this lecture from 1994, Theroux talks about the role of travel writing and how it differs from journalism. He describes how great travel books are imprinted with the author’s world view and offer us a time stamp of a given place at specific time. This last note struck us about this show (The Archive Project) itself, in the way it reveals authors at a particular moment in their career in the context of a particular time.
“Travel writing is a kind of biography of a place. It is a portrait of a place.”
“A [travel book] is not about the place as much as it is about the person who’s writing about the place.”
Paul Theroux is the author of many highly acclaimed books. His novels include The Lower River, Jungle Lovers, and The Mosquito Coast, and his renowned travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star and Dark Star Safari. He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.