The judging panel for the 2023 Michael Jacobs Travel Writing Grant, comprised of Jon Lee Anderson (USA), Daniel Samper Pizano (Colombia), and Federico Guzmán (Mexico), met in Cartagena on January 27, 2023 to select the winner from a total of 341 proposals for travel books and articles on Latin America or Spain.
The judging panel praised the potential of the proposals presented in this edition and believes that the quality of proposals is definitely improving every year. In other cases, the panel expressed concern about the misinterpretation of what travel writing is. According to the judging panel, it should be an open door—not only to places, but also to fascinating ideas, times, and realities of the world we live in—and a mirror that not only shows, but narrates, transports, and explains ideas with clarity, efficiency, and beauty.
During the judging process, Anderson, Samper, and Guzmán sought interesting proposals that integrate a narrative pulse with clear structure and unity, which dive into foreign lands, seeing them from a deeply unique perspective—something that Michael Jacobs, whose legacy inspired this fellowship, achieved masterfully.
After deliberation, the judging panel unanimously agreed that Abraham Jiménez Enoa (Cuba) was the winner with his project “Aterrizar en el mundo,” in which the author sets out to tell the story of his first year outside Cuba, after being confined to the island for his entire life—33 years. Jiménez plans to write a long-form story that travels from the present to the past, and that covers some of the West’s most emblematic cities, where he has lived in exile— Barcelona, Madrid, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Washington, and New York—seeing them not through a lens of naivety, astonishment, and recklessness, but from a more detailed, analytical, and structured perspective.
According to the judging panel, the originality of the proposal “Aterrizar en el mundo” is captivating. It is interesting and unexpected, because it trumps the common story of foreigners portraying socialism in Cuba. Here, a Cuban sets out to tell the story of life, other dictatorships, capitalism, racism, and xenophobia from his own perspective. The judging panel highlighted Jimenez's knack for identifying what has been normalized, what has been marginalized, and what is seemingly invisible.
Honorable Mention: Eric Lombardo Lemus
The judging panel highlighted the project submitted by journalist Eric Lombardo Lemus Escalante as a finalist of the 2023 Michael Jacobs Travel Writing Grant. The panel considered his proposal—“¡Revolución o suerte! Viaje a las rutas de la insurrección salvadoreña” (Revolution or Luck! Journey Through the Salvadoran Insurrection)—to be relevant and crucial in understanding the past and confronting the present of two generations: one that survived brutality, and another that wants to understand the Salvadoran civil war.
In this edition, the judging panel pays tribute to the renowned British writer and traveler Jonathan Raban, who died on January 17, 2023 at the age of 80. Raban is a great reference on how to travel and narrate the realities of others. In the words of travel writer Hugh Thompson in a magazine article for The Spectator, he constantly reminded us that “travel writing is about more than looking out the window. It’s also about looking at our own reflection.”