Posted on March 24, 2014

This conversation between Leo Lerman and Jan Morris, part of a collaboration between 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center and The Paris Review, was recorded live at 92Y on October 10, 1989. We are able to share this recording thanks to a generous gift in memory of Christopher Lightfoot Walker, longtime friend of the Poetry Center and The Paris Review. Here is an excerpt from the full interview that ran in The Paris Review as The Art of the Essay No. 2 in the summer of 1997.

INTERVIEWER

You resist being called a travel writer.

JAN MORRIS

Yes. At least I resist the idea that travel writing has got to be factual. I believe in its imaginative qualities and its potential as art and literature. I must say that my campaign, which I’ve been waging for ages now, has borne some fruit because intelligent bookshops nowadays do have a stack called something like travel literature. But what word does one use?

INTERVIEWER

Writing about place?

MORRIS

Yes, that’s what I do. Although I think of myself more as a belletrist, an old-fashioned word. Essayist would do; people understand that more or less. But the thing is, my subject has been mostly concerned with place. It needn’t be. I believe my best books to be far more historical than topographical. But like most writers, I think far too much about myself anyway, and in my heart of hearts don’t think I am worth talking about in this way.

INTERVIEWER

Basically, what you are then is a historian.

MORRIS

Well, my best books have been histories. That’s all.

Christopher Lightfoot Walker

Christopher Lightfoot Walker (1954-2012) served as poster director, prints director and advisory editor of The Paris Review. He also volunteered at the 92nd Street Y's Unterberg Poetry Center, making transcriptions, which were models of their kind, of audio recordings of live literary events. Chris was born in New York City, attended the Buckley School, then went west to Fountain Valley School and back east to Hampshire College. He was engaged in a number of entrepreneurial efforts (some in collaboration with his father, Angus Lightfoot Walker, longtime chairman of the City Investing Company), when, at the age of 31, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. He wore his adversity lightly, retaining, in addition to his considerable wits, his sense of humor and sense of fun. Against the odds he remained a person on whom no delightful thing was ever lost. Chris was always grateful for the refuge he was able to find in the work provided by 92Y.

This post is part of 92Y/The Paris Review: Interview Series.