04 Oct A Conversation with Author Eddy Harris
Very early in my career, way back in the 90’s I received the gift of a book, South of Haunted Dreams by Eddy Harris. As a young Black man venture out into a professional environment that was mostly white I took great comfort in this remarkable story of a person with a background similar to my own who was successfully leading a life of travel and adventure. In his book, Harris recounts his experiences of making his way through the Southern United States on motorcycle while enjoying occasional stops on trout streams to do a little fly-fishing. Though concerned that he might subjected to the mistreatment of racism Harris said his ability to navigate through places that are unfamiliar or even a bit frightening hinges upon his willingness to be vulnerable and receptive to the kindness of complete strangers. As writer myself I ask him, is that also a way to be an effective storyteller?
“I never actually thought of it that way. But it’s something that I do as a literary device. I’m a traveler. I’ve been a traveler since I was 16 years old. The way I travel is not organized. I have no plan when I go someplace. Whatever happens happens,” Harris told me in an interview. “When I meet people and they invite me in for coffee or drinks or dinner, I almost never say no. I’m receptive to generosity, and I just put myself out there. I’ve discovered that that if you want people’s stories, you make yourself available to them and they will in fact tell you’re their stories.”
I believe that in many ways Harris’s attitude toward travel and to how find one’s place in the world directly influenced my own. Over the years that followed after reading that first book I went on read his other titles that include Mississippi Solo about his adventures paddling a canoe down the Mississippi River and Native Stranger that details a trip he made through the continent of Africa. But it was in article that he wrote for Outside Magazine 1997 on the disparities among people color as active participants in outdoor recreation that really got my attention. It was through the work of Eddy Harris that I first began to explore the divisions of diversity, equity and inclusion that I call “The Adventure Gap”. Now more than 20 years later I have a wonderful opportunity to learn from one of my favorite literary heroes.
In 2018 I had the great pleasure of hosting a visit with Eddy Harris at the University of Wisconsin Madison. As adjunct faculty at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies it was my honor to speak with him as a guest interviewer on the Edge Effects Podcast.
After 30 years of reading the work of Eddy Harris as a fan I now count him among my friends. It’s that same spirit of humility and vulnerability that makes him such an endearing person and very compelling writer. You can find more of his work online at Eddyharris.com.