An old African proverb says, “Until the lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.” Travel literature has long been a white-dominated arena in which people of color are often considered subjects, scenery or not at all. But the tradition of travel writing by people of color has been practiced for ages and is stronger than ever—you just haven’t heard of it, yet.
1. The Negro Motorist Green Book by Victor H. Green
Before Lonely Planet there was the Green Book, an indispensable travel guide published annually from 1936 to 1966 by travel agent and activist Victor H. Green, which listed black-friendly hotels, restaurants and other services during the Jim Crow era of legal segregation. At the time, African-American travelers were commonly forced to take preemptive measures like packing gasoline and even keeping buckets in their trunks for bathroom breaks since they were turned away from most restrooms and gas stations.
2. An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie
While out gathering coconuts in Togo, young Tété-Michel was attacked by a venomous snake that brought him to the edge of death. During recovery, he came across a book about Greenland and vowed to venture to this land where snakes were nonexistent. However, neither were African men, and this anthropological account chronicles the author’s decade-long journey through Africa and Europe before finally reaching the Arctic Circle and living among the Inuit.
3. Deer Hunting in Paris: A Memoir of God, Guns, and Game Meat by Paula Young Lee
Winner of the 2014 Lowell Thomas Award from the Society of American Travel Writers, Deer Hunting in Paris takes readers on a beguiling trip from the cosmopolitan streets of Paris, France, to the gun-toting Republican-filled fields of Paris, Maine, guided by the smart-ass wit of Paula Lee, a vegetarian-turned-hunter, who celebrates DIY food culture with joie de vivre.
4. Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun by Faith Adiele
Jokingly referring to herself as “the Original Obama,” Nordic-Nigerian writer Faith Adiele employs perfect comedic timing mixed with spot-on cultural critique to weave this narrative of the outer journey from Harvard to Southeast Asia and the inner journey of becoming the first black mae chi (nun) of Thailand. During one scene, in which she’s about to have her head and eyebrows shaved for the ordination ceremony, she blurts out: “Scott, I think I need a beer.”
5. A Stranger in the Village: Two Centuries of African-American Travel Writing edited by Farah J. Griffin and Cheryl J. Fish
Named after James Baldwin’s landmark essay on being a black traveler in a small Swiss town, this collection is a literary goldmine featuring ruminations on what it’s like to be both the visitor and the visited. Entries include Ntozake Skange musing on Motown in Nicaragua; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reporting on black and brown solidarity from India; and Booker T. Washington breaking down Italian politics.