An Extraordinary Conference

The Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference has an extraordinary reputation among publishers, editors, and writers. Alumni have published books, articles, and photos—many as the direct result of lessons learned and contacts made at the conference. There is no finer travel conference anywhere in the world.

The Conference offers an array of workshops, panels, and evening activities. There are many hours of informal interaction between faculty and students during lunch and in discussions that often last late into the evening.

Past conferences have included:

Travel Writers

Isabel Allende  Jim Benning • Bill Bryson Tim Cahill Phil Cousineau  David Farley • Elliott Hester Pico Iyer Peter Matthiessen Peter Mayle Andrew McCarthy Jan Morris Peter Nichols Rolf Potts Peter Stark Amy Tan Eric Weiner Simon Winchester

Photographers, Editors & more

Publishers and Editors
Donald George Conference Chair
Pioneering travel writer and editor: San Francisco Chronicle, & Lonely Planet
Tony Wheeler Founder, Lonely Planet Guides
Maureen Wheeler Founder, Lonely Planet Guides
John Flinn Travel Editor San Francisco Chronicle
Larry Bleiberg Senior Editor, Coastal Living magazine
Larry Habegger Executive Editor Traveler's Tales
Pauline Frommer Editor of Pauline Frommer Travel Guides
Catharine Hamm Travel Editor Los Angeles Times
Jeff Phillips Senior Travel Editor for Sunset magazine
Thomas Swick Travel Editor, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Bonnie Ammer Publisher Fodors' Guides
Krista Lyons Editorial Director of Avalon Books and Moon Guides
Lisa Gosellin Editor-in-Chief Islands magazine

Robert Holmes Conference Photography Chair & award-winning travel photographer
George Olson Director of Photography Sunset magazine
Albert Chang Creative Director Islands magazine
Chris Rainer Photographer National Geographic
Mikkel Aaland Photographer and author of Shooting Digital
David Cohen Creator of the Day-in-the-Life series
Freelance Journalists
Georgia Hesse
Linda Watanabe McFerrin
Amanda Jones
Lynn Ferrin
Michael Shapiro

Amy Rennert
Kimberly Cameron
Katharine Sands
Arielle Eckstut

A Place at the Table
by Michael Shapiro

Michael Shapiro Author of A Sense of Place and Guatemala: A Journey Through the Land of the Maya, Michael Shapiro is a contributor to National Geographic Traveler, Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle. He is a Conference alum.

I walked onto the Book Passage patio on a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon, and I saw Elaine Petrocelli, Don George and Jan Morris having lunch under the shade of an umbrella. One empty seat remained at their table. After hesitating for a moment, I approached them and stammered, "Do you mind... would it be ok..."

"Sure, of course, please join us," they said in unison, and a second later I was sitting at a table for four with the co-owner (with her husband, Bill) of the Bay Area's most influential bookstore, the former editor of the San Francisco Examiner travel section, and the legendary Welsh author of some of the world's most fascinating travel books. Not for a moment did I feel that I'd intruded. I listened raptly as they discussed their favorite travel literature, and made a mental note to read Apsley Cherry-Garrard's The Worst Journey in the World.

Though this sounds extraordinary, it's par for the course at Book Passage's annual travel writers conference. During four days of writing classes, discussion panels and impromptu salons, I learned more about travel writing than I did in four years of college. But it was that lunch with Jan, Don and Elaine that had the most profound impact.

In that moment, by welcoming me to their table, these literary lights said to an aspiring writer: you belong. Seven years later, in 1999, I was on the faculty of the conference. Later this year I’ll serve on the faculty for the fifth time. Back to 1994: my friend Morris Dye, then an associate travel editor at the Examiner, had a tale of biking through Thailand published in a new book called Travelers’ Tales Thailand. He was one of several contributors to the book who’d be reading at Book Passage, so I attended the event. I was enthralled by this collection of true travel tales, but something else that night caught my eye: the World Wide Web. Allen Noren, an editor for the tech-book publisher O’Reilly & Associates, connected a computer to a phone line and lit up a monitor with Global Network Navigator, the first online guide to the World Wide Web.

At the click of a button you could fly from one site to the next, getting advice on travel to Estonia here, learning about floating down the Mekong on a cargo barge there. It was astounding. Though I’m not often prescient about these things, I just knew this would take off. I stayed in touch with Allen, and a few months later landed a job at GNN.

By 1996, I was working on a book for O’Reilly about using the Internet for travel planning. I wanted a travel pioneer to write the foreword, and when I saw that Arthur Frommer was coming to speak at Book Passage, I decided to approach him there. When I explained the project, Frommer, one of the most gracious men in the business, agreed to write the foreword, and his words lent the book an authority that helped make it successful. Coming back to Book Passage as a faculty member for the Travel Writers Conference has been an annual highlight. One year I sat next to Peter Matthiessen and discussed Into Thin Air; the next I matched Tim Cahill pint for pint as we talked about the thrills and perils of traveling beyond the tourist track. And getting to know San Francisco Chronicle travel editor John Flinn at the conference helped me place stories, and eventually a column, in his Sunday travel section.

So much has grown from the conference: a monthly salon, called Left Coast Writers, hosted by Linda Watanabe McFerrin; an online writers’ discussion forum I launched called write-now, and countless writers’ groups. And my book, A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk About Their Craft, Lives and Inspiration, came to fruition through Book Passage. The book is a collection of interviews with the world’s leading traveling writers: Jan Morris, Bill Bryson, Tim Cahill, Isabel Allende, Simon Winchester, Pico Iyer and many others I’ve met at the bookstore. Naturally, A Sense of Place is published by Travelers’ Tales, whose executive editor, Larry Habegger, is a fixture at the Conference.

Over the years I’ve realized that Book Passage is much more than a bookstore: It’s a community of people who love to read, to write and to travel. A mutually supportive collective dedicated to one another’s highest aspirations, in literature and in life. And so, in the tradition of the travel conference, I’d like to make a toast: For Christmas dinner when I was a kid, my grandfather would take his family to a German restaurant called Luchow’s on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. As an oompah band thumped, he’d welcome everyone to the table, and then, as he beamed at his children and grandchildren, this modest man would congratulate himself and his bride for "making it all possible."

So here’s my toast: To Elaine and Bill, Don, Jan, Isabel, Tim, Larry, John and so many others, thank you for making this all possible.