By the light of a hotel room window in Oxford, moving back on line after time off the grid in northern England, I read the astonishing news that I had been named the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year. I could not have been more surprised, and grateful. As a writer I believe in “deep travel,” which means I report upon and otherwise describe people in places with regard to their history, and political, social and spiritual surroundings. I am humbled and thrilled that the judges who looked at my work and deemed it worthy of this recognition appreciated, and by their award, esteemed this perspective. Maya Roads, for instance, includes not only the beauty of the Mesoamerican rainforest, but also contains accounts of the violence of its recent past. The essay, “Gore Vidal’s Old House” suggests the late writer, one of the keenest observers of U.S. foreign policy in the last sixty years, began to form his critique of imperialism while living in Guatemala as a young novelist (elsewhere on this site are links to these and other stories in the portfolio given the Grand Award). I am grateful to my agent, Andy Ross, the editors with whom I worked, and most of all to individuals in several countries who allowed me to share their stories.
Here is the YouTube video of the awards presentation (my bit is at the end, Grand Award) http://youtu.be/PcYyqWIE_2s and here are the SATW press release and judges’ comments:
Mary Jo McConahay, author, freelance writer, blogger and documentary filmmaker, earned the title of Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year for a portfolio of her work that included exceptional storytelling in “Maya Roads: One Woman’s Journey Among the People of the Rainforest.” Afar magazine, Travel + Leisure and the Los Angeles Times were the top winners, earning the most awards.
The annual competition is sponsored by the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation. Winners of the awards, the most prestigious in the field of travel journalism, were announced Oct. 21 at the SATW convention, held this year in Biloxi, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This is the 29th Lowell Thomas competition and drew 1,257 entries. Judges were members of the faculty at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication. It is the premier competition in North America in the field of travel journalism.
Grand Award — Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year
Gold: Mary Jo McConahay, freelance writer, author, blogger and documentary filmmaker The best travel writing entices readers to be adventurous anywhere — from the remoteness of the tropical rain forest to the density of sprawling Sao Paulo. Mary Jo McConahay does just that in “Maya Roads: One Woman’s Journey Among the People of the Rainforest” and “Navigating a Hypercity: Sao Paulo” and in other wonderful articles such as “Gore Vidal’s Old House.” In the latter, McConahay walks us in the footsteps of novelist, journalist and playwright Gore Vidal, who was a World War II veteran and frequent critic of U.S. foreign policy in his later years. Vidal’s life is center stage in “Old House,” which McConahay informs us is not your typical residence: “In 1946, the author (Vidal), then just twenty-one, took $3,000 from the payment for his first novel, ‘Williwaw,’ and bought a crumbling 16th-century convent next to the ruins of Our Lady of Carmen.”
In “Navigating a Hypercity,” McConahay introduces Brazil’s largest city, which requires serious travel planning before visiting:
“Despite having traveled in more than eighty countries, I froze last year when planning a trip to Sao Paulo, Pop: 20 million. It wasn’t the number itself that stopped me — who can count to twenty million anyway? But descriptions called the largest urban conglomeration in South America a hypercity, a term new to me, evoking image of chaos, attention disorder and suffocating density. I got nervous.”
McConahay’s writing is anything but chaos as she calmly advises would-be visitors on how to best tour the city. From walking to eating, and of course shopping, she steels our nerves to the point that we are ready to book a flight right now. With outstanding writing and advice Mary Jo McConahay proves that she is both the quintessential travel writer and exceptional storyteller. For that she earns the gold in the Grand Award category.
The SATW award competition is formidable and prestigious in the field because:
* it does not promote any particular destination or travel product,
* it is open to all North American journalists, not just SATW members, and
* it is judged independently by the faculty at top U.S. schools of journalism.
The Foundation distributes nearly $20,000 in prize money to individual winners. Generous donations by this year’s Underwriters, the Tourist Office for Flanders-Brussels and Travel Guard, help make the prizes possible.
For more information about the awards, including a full list of winners and judges’ comments, and SATW, visit www.satwf.com and www.satw.org.
SATW FOUNDATION LOWELL THOMAS TRAVEL JOURNALISM COMPETITION 29 Years of Rewarding Journalists for Outstanding Work in the Field