The idea for Away came on a walk. My longtime friend and fellow writer Jessica Grim and I had stepped away from our desks and computers to take our weekly jaunt around Oberlin. I was bragging about how good my students’ writing was in my course “Writing About Travel.” I was complaining about the lack of good venues for interesting travel writing, writing about travel with a critical consciousness, writing about travel that pushed the conventions, travel writing more compelling or daring than that anthologized in The Best American Travel Writing Series (80% men, magazine writing of a particular taste) or The Best Women’s Travel Writing. And I was going on about how my students much preferred reading the work of others who had taken the class before them, how they found their work more interesting, more compelling than much of the published material. So Jessica asked, “Why don’t you make your own journal?”
Why not indeed?
By the time we rounded the final corner from the bike path to Professor Street, the itinerary was roughed out: the journal would be on-line, we would edit it, we would put together an editorial board, and we would publish the work that we liked – work that we were seeking out but which we could find only in bits and pieces elsewhere. By the time we reached my building we were playing with possible names, and Away came to me. It seemed fitting: it was, after all, when Jessica and I actually left the site of work that we got something done; it was when we stepped away from our usual setting that we thought differently. And often it is when we’re away from home that other worlds and realities become possible, become equally as real and viable as the worlds we habitually inhabit. And it was “away” too in honor of our friend Ellen Sayles, dean of international studies at Oberlin, who taught me that in her field people no longer talked about “study abroad,” but rather they spoke of study away – study away from one’s home, wherever that was. And as I knew from working from students from China, Oakland, and Chicago, away is always a relative thing.
And of course, there was the nice resonance of “a way.” Not the way — just a way. Because each writer, each piece offers a way to think about moving through the world, whether the piece follows the route of a semester away, of immigration, a family vacation, or a road trip, whether we choose to travel or we are forced to move — whether we are adopted, exiled, escaping. The world encompassed by Away is not the one of center and periphery, the traveler setting out (like Marco Polo, Columbus, Lewis and Clark) to report on a place that is simply afar and not-home; it’s the world of the contact zone, where cultures aren’t fixed to places but rather people from different places with different experiences come together and interact, where everywhere you go is somebody’s home and someone else’s elsewhere, where we come together, clash, intermix, try to understand and make ourselves heard.
Rachel Adler describes it this way in a piece called “The Drive”: she is watching from the sidelines of a Nashville country bar where four practiced dancers go through their elegant steps. She wants to dance:
But if I joined in now, I would probably just make a fool of myself. I am not wearing cowboy boots and I don’t even know the name of the dance. It would be clear that I’m not from here. I suppose it’s clear in any case. I’m not sure what I’m afraid of. This is the crescendoing question — how to relentlessly, effortlessly open myself up to each new move and yet not pretend that I know where to stand or where to place my heels. (emphasis added)
How can we continue to open? How can we be respectful and smart when we are away from what we know? And how can we write about what we see and think, without stepping on any toes?
I’m not sure. Our stories are only our own, a perspective, a moment. But let’s dance anyway.
–Laurie Hovell McMillin
Editor in Chief: Laurie Hovell McMillin
Assistant Editor: Jessica Grim
Editorial Assistant: Sarah Goldstone
Tech and Editorial: Liam McMillin
Original web design: Logan Buckley
Away would like to thank the following for their assistance on early issues:
Editorial support: Zack Knoll, Santino Merino, Dory Trimble, Matan Zeimer; and technical support: Erin Gravley
Wallpaper photo, “Ain Feshbha [sic] Cave,” from the H. G. May Archaeology of Palestine Collection in the Special Collections at Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio. Used with permission.
Funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the Five Colleges of Ohio (Digital Scholarship: Projects & Pedagogy, 2013). Thanks also to Oberlin College Library staff members Xi Chen, Cecilia Robinson, and Alan Boyd, and Five Colleges of Ohio Digital Scholar Jacob Heil. Thanks to Oberlin College for on-going support. Views expressed are those of the authors only.
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