Reflections on the 2013 Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference

A lot has been written about the 2013 Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference, and now that I’ve had a few days to let the experience settle, I thought I’d add another note to the chorus. Don George spoke during his closing “filibuster” on Sunday — not wanting the conference to end — that the Event Room at Book Passage was sacred ground for him. That struck a chord with me because, to a lesser extent, that room is also sacred ground for me.

Don has interviewed dozens of the world’s best writers on that stage, continuing the tradition with an extraordinary conversation on Friday night with Amy Tan. On Saturday night I had the privilege to be the guest in one of Don’s “conversations,” celebrating 20 years of Travelers’ Tales, the publishing company I cofounded with James and Tim O’Reilly in 1993. Book Passage poured 100-plus glasses of champagne for conference attendees and others, and we toasted those 20 years of books. I got to tell stories from our beginnings, remembering that we launched our company with Travelers’ Tales Thailand in that room.

Over the years I’ve hosted more events than I can remember, always choosing Book Passage as the place to launch new titles. One of my most memorable was when I got to introduce Jan Morris to read from Coast to Coast, her first book, which we reissued in 2002. The place was packed for the 7 p.m. event but there was no Jan. At 7:10 I spotted her outside, strolling across the piazza. Turned out she thought the reading was scheduled for 7:30 and she was just getting some air.

It was a pity that James and Tim, and their brother Sean, who joined us a few years into our run, weren’t there on Saturday to accept the tribute Travelers’ Tales received. Their work also was being honored, and the event reminded me that we shouldn’t underestimate the impact we have when we put creative work out into the world. I’ve known for years that the books we’ve published have moved people, transformed people, but in the hurly-burly of everyday life, it’s easy to forget. My talk with Don on stage in the Event Room at Book Passage reminded me, and motivated me, to remember this, and to strive to keep remembering it as long as we publish books and beyond.

Stories are important, sharing them with the world is important, and working with writers to bring these stories to readers is a privilege. I’m grateful for my Travelers’ Tales colleagues, for the writers who provide the tales that enrich us all, and for Elaine Petrocelli, who’s created and maintained this sacred ground of Book Passage. And of course I’m grateful for Don, who has the courage to speak from the heart, and makes the Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference possible. It’s a time and place where extraordinary things happen.


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