Julian Sayarer's book Interstate: Hitchhiking Through the State of a Nation (Arcadia), documenting his American road trip from New York to San Francisco, has been named Travel Book of the Year at the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards. After winning the £5,000 prize, the author pledged to donate half the winnings to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The awards ceremony, part of the Stanfords Travel Writing Festival celebrating writers and writing across 10 categories, took place in London's Olympia last night (2nd February). Writer, actor and "Monty Python" star Michael Palin was honoured for Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing.
Sayarer, who once held the world record for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe by bicycle, pledged to donate 50% of his £5,000 winnings to the ACLU in the spirit of art critic and author John Berger, who donated 50% of his Booker winnings to the Black Panthers in 1972. His book Interstate, charting his hitchhike across Amercia towards the end of the Obama administration, was the judges' unanimous choice for the Book of the Year accolade, praised as "challenging and enigmatic".
Chair of judges, travel writer and biographer Sara Wheeler, said: “The decision was unanimous. Sayarer is a brilliantly thoughtful writer with no shortage of passion and anger. As befits the story of a road trip, the prose is the opposite of pedestrian: it is challenging and enigmatic – its power derives in part from what is left out. One can’t help thinking that the future of travel writing lies in this adventurous, post-modern genre.”
Palin, whose new book documenting the maritime adventures of the HMS Erebus will be published in 2018, was presented with his award for Outstanding Contribution by author Levison Wood, himself a winner in the Adventure Travel category for Walking the Himalayas, an account of his 1,700-mile trek across the roof of the world.
Wood said Palin was "one of my childhood heroes, a real inspiration that led me to want to explore the world with the same enthusiasm and curiosity". He added: "His adventures around the world, across deserts, mountains and jungles have no doubt encouraged millions to do the same."
Accepting the award, Palin said: “To be given an Outstanding Contribution Award for Travel Writing is a great honour. To be presented with it by an outstanding writer/adventurer like Levison Wood is icing on the cake. The cake itself is that the award comes from Stanfords, the first port of call on all my travels, and one of the few truly indispensable shops in the world.”
Michael Palin was presented with the award for Outstanding Contribution
Canadian writer Madeleine Thien took the Specsavers Fiction (with a sense of place) Award for her 2016 Man Booker-shortlisted novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta), a book about China’s revolutionary history that chair of judges Lyn Hughes, co-founder of Wanderlust magazine, called “an epic and powerful novel”.
Illustrated books won several Awards: The National Book Tokens Children’s Travel Book of the Year was Atlas of Animal Adventures by Lucy Letherland, Rachel Williams and Emily Hawkins (Wide Eyed Editions); The Destinations Show Illustrated Travel Book of the Year went to The Un-Discovered Islands: An Archipelago of Myths, Mysteries, Phantoms and Fakes by Malachy Tallack and Katie Scott (Polygon); The London Book Fair Innovation in Travel Publishing Award was given to James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti for Where the Animals Go: Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics (Particular Books); and Tessa Kiros won the Food and Travel Magazine Food and Travel Book of the Year Award for “a true culinary travel book” Provence to Pondicherry: Recipes from France and Faraway (Quadrille).
Two emerging talents were also highlighted at the ceremony: Dom Tulett was named winner of Bradt Travel Guides New Travel Writer of the Year competition for “a masterful piece of writing”, and will shortly be featured in the travel publisher’s Roam Alone: Inspiring Tales by Reluctant Solo Travellers (Bradt Travel Guides); Lauren Williams’ travel blog, "The Enjoyable Rut", was named Lonely Planet Travel Blog of the Year, for the freelance writer’s “perfect balance of travelogue and travel guide... Like reading postcards from a travel-mad best friend.”
Tony Maher, m.d. Edward Stanford Limited, said the award winners were "an inspiration". “These awards celebrate and reward the very best writers in every genre of travel writing, from the newest of talents to household names," he said. "They show us the world beyond our own horizons, taking us with them on their journeys. Their words let us see, smell, touch and hear from our own armchair as they explore every inch of this incredible planet. They are an inspiration.”
The Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards are supported by a trade-wide travel books promotion in bookshops and libraries until 24th February.