by Rolf Potts
How did you get started traveling?
My mother adored travel and took us on many trips when I was growing up. Before we went, we always had to prepare by reading and learning about the place. That set the template for my later exploits as a traveler and travel writer. I loved travel from childhood.
How did you get started writing?
Likewise from childhood: family friends recount how I said at age three that I wanted to be a writer, and I’ve never wanted to be anything else.
What do you consider your first “break” as a writer?
My first job was at a glossy magazine, and in 1988, when I was 24 years old, I persuaded them to send me to Moscow for Sotheby’s sale of contemporary Soviet art. I said I’d be writing about how over-hyped the art was, but I met the artists, understood their context, and realized they were brilliant; they’d only made work that looked banal to avoid the unwelcome attentions of the KGB. It was a very different article from the one I’d been assigned, and I ended up writing my first book about the artists and how their lives changed during glasnost.
As a traveler and fact/story gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road?
I hate making cold calls to people I don’t know. I can engage with almost anyone, but I find that process especially challenging, and I get into paroxysms of anxiety in contacting total strangers and asking them to help me as I venture into fresh territory. Once I get past the first call, though, we’re fine.
(To read the full interview, please visit the website of fellow travel writer Rolf Potts.)