Choosing the best Nowhere Magazine features of 2014 was not an easy task. We receive hundreds of submissions every year. We publish thirty. We are picky as hell. We don’t like brochure writing, sentimentality, nostalgia, commercialism or sensationalism. We simply like narratives that tell us about a place — without trying to tell us about that place.
Among last year’s crop, here are seven that were especially memorable: a black-and-white photo essay of Iceland in the winter, an ode to the concept of “place,” the truth about the commercial machine that is modern travel writing, a letter from Istanbul, a road trip through Appalachia and a story about the chilling power of solitude.
These are not typical travel stories. They are narratives with meaning, emotion and truth. They are the kind of tale a traveller might tell late at night in a packed roadhouse, when only a few people are listening over the din and every word counts.
—Porter Fox, Editor
N11: Locus Pocus (Bighorns to the West)
by Merrill Gilfillan
Merrill Gilfillan has been publishing poetry, nonfiction and fiction set in the U.S. West for fifty years. He is not a “travel writer,” (who is?) and yet his descriptions of the Big Horn Mountains in north-central Wyoming surpass any travel literature I’ve ever read. Lines like, “So, here between the broiled Wyoming shoe and the spider-filled vodka bottle in the ditch, is a place, a place as good as any to sit and ponder the Bighorns,” leave one wondering, what is this place? Who lives there? What’s the weather like? How do you get there? You can’t ask much more from a travel story. Read more here.
N11: Estranged in Iceland
by Rossella Nisio
These haunting images by artist and photographer Rossella Nisio relate something you rarely see in print these days: darkness. Not everything interesting is sunny and beach-y. In fact, sunny beaches make for a great vacation because they are incredibly boring, thus letting your mind relax. More intrepid travelers might look for this dark side, see what Iceland is like in the heart of winter, what Calcutta is like in the middle of the monsoon, what New Englanders do during a muddy spring. If nothing else, these images of Iceland are like nothing you have ever seen from that island. See the photos here.
N12: Branding Guyana (and the rise and fall of travel writing)
by Frank Bures
Celebrated travel writer Frank Bures looks in the mirror in “Branding Guyana,” asking a question many readers have pondered: Where does travel writing come from? The answer: Public relations firms. “…travel writing has essentially become a wing of the travel industry—a $7 trillion sector that employs 10 percent of the world’s population—with the ‘singular goal of helping consumers spend their money pursuing the perfect trip’ by cutting out any criticism and negativity.” Follow Bures’s trip through the history of travel writing, Jack Kerouac’s gigs with Holiday magazine, the rise of the advertorial and how to get invited on a PR trip for free. Read more here.
N10: The Land of Oz
by Susan Harlan
Sometimes the strangest places are the most inspiring. In this essay, Susan Harlan travels to North Carolina to visit a dilapidated theme park based on the Wizard of Oz. As it turned out, the creation of the park itself (and its diehard fans) were far more interesting than the story of the Wizard. “I wondered if the Land of Oz would have a glittering Emerald City: that place of promise, of kitsch where – at least in the film – all visitors get their hair curled before they meet the wizard.” Read more here.
N12: White Cube
by Ansley Clark
Of all the stories Nowhere has published, I think this one is the most unique. This is not a story about sneaking over a border or hitchhiking through Malaysia. It is about being alone, one of the most powerful, and common, personal experiences one can have on the road. Ansley Clark’s descriptions of solitude and loneliness in a foreign country are not just brilliant for their accuracy, but for the fact that she had the courage to write them at all. Read more here.
N13: Istanbul Letter
by Andrew Bratcher
Andrew Bratcher won the Nowhere Spring Writing Contest with this gem. Written in the timeless style of a Paul Bowles missive from Tangiers, “Istanbul Letter” relates the wild confluence of cultures in Anatolia, with frighteningly striking prose. “Brother, I have glimpsed some wild scenes. A chef, for one, flogging a squid against a curb. The mosque in KadIköy was slamming on Friday, so they spread mats in the alley, beneath window mannequins in lingerie.” This is not a postcard from abroad, it is raw immersion in the sites and sounds of a three-thousand-year-old city. Read on.
N13: The Road to Somewhere
by Freddi Price
There is a road in everyone’s past that transports you back in time. For Freddi Price, that road is Skyline Drive through the Appalachian Mountains. “It was, for me, a perfect road for it connects and travels to places I want to go, and it does so in a way that I prefer—away from the trappings of modern life, in the solitude of nature. Slow-going, sublime. It is like hiking in your car.” Price is a performer, artist, fabricator, musician, carpenter … and writer. He does not travel to write about it. He travels to do things. We are lucky that he takes the time to put them on paper every now and then. Read more here.