Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference

WHEN: August 14-17, 2008
WHERE: Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA 94925
PRICE: $635
Conference Coordinator: Karen
West, (800)999-7909 ext. 238;

At lunch on the first day of the Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference, a writer ends up sitting next to a guidebook publisher. The writer asks why there’s never been a guidebook to Europe for beginners, and the publisher replies, “That’s a good idea. What would you put in it?” By the end of the conference, the writer has a contract to write—you guessed it—a guidebook to Europe for beginners.

“There are many success stories like this,” says Conference Chair Don George, a travel writer and editor who’s worked with the San Francisco Chronicle, and Lonely Planet, and who edits the literary travel e-zine Recce.

The nexus of the Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference is the Book Passage bookstore in Corte Madera, Calif. This independent bookstore started out with a focus on travel, but has grown to include titles of all types. Much of the conference takes place at the bookstore itself, but spills over to a hotel that’s within walking distance of the store.

During the mornings, aspiring professional writers and photographers participate in intensive workshops, including guidebooks, travel photography, advanced newspaper writing and advanced magazine writing. The workshops’ formats vary: One workshop might consist of lectures by the instructor, while another might be more interactive, with students writing and critiquing each other’s work.

In the afternoons, students can attend panels and more workshops such as working with a book agent, photographing people and the business of travel photography. If you like, you can pick a mix of writing and photography workshops and panels. And this mingling can work to your advantage: “Sometimes photographers and writers team up and go on to collaborate on a story,” George says.

Presenters at the 2008 conference include John Flinn, executive travel editor of the San Francisco Chronicle; Pauline Frommer from Frommer’s travel guides; and representatives of the Lonely Planet travel guides. Keynote speakers include Tim Cahill, author of Jaguars Ripped My Flesh; Isabel Allende, author of Inés of My Soul; and Simon Winchester, author of A Crack in the Edge of the World. Conference organizers take the keynote speakers around to morning workshops to talk with the students and answer questions; every student should get a half-hour drop-in session with at least one author.

After evening presentations by the guests of honor, students can attend late-night informal sessions. “Faculty and students alike mingle informally on the piazza, sipping wine or beer or soft drinks and chatting about travel, travel writing and photography,” George says. “This is a tremendous opportunity for mentoring and storytelling alike, and some of my favorite memories are of listening to Jan Morris, Pico Iyer, Tony Wheeler and Peter Matthiessen spin tales of far-flung adventures. These moments are among the most memorable gifts of the conference.”

Miss the late-night informal sessions—and the chance to chat with your favorite author? Not to worry. The organizers encourage the speakers to hang out at the bookstore and chat with the students. “A lot of students tell me that’s life changing for them,” George says. “One huge value of the conference is the one-on-one contact with masters of the craft.” Whatever burning questions you have for the authors, they always respond generously and graciously.

“Throw caution to the wind and completely immerse yourself in the conference,” George says. “Take advantage of the fact that you have four days of intimate contact with the best writers and editors and publishers in the field. Don’t be afraid to talk to them about your questions and projects. Be as completely a part of the conference as you can be and you’ll be rewarded ten-fold.”

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