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Photograph of Lt. Paul Fussell in Paris, France, May 1945. Credit: U.S. Army (Public domain)

In June 1999, a travel writing conference was held at the University of Pennsylvania. The guest of honor was historian Paul Fussell, author of Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars, a book which (with Paul Theroux's Great Railway Bazaar) had, according to conference organizer David Espey, sparked a wave of popular interest in travel writing.

Eventually, Espey declared, the conference might lead to the formation of a professional association, which might in turn issue an annual award for travel writing. Indeed, citing his favorite anecdote from Fussell's book—involving the author's retrieval of his wallet and passport from a Turkish toilet—Espey even proposed a suitable name for the award: "The Order of the Golden Arm."

[Espey also discussed Fussell's contention that organized "tourism" had supplanted true "travel," which inspired a spate of "Fussell as travel killer" leads in travel articles. Espey praised the quality and accessibility of Fussell's prose, noting that it had "crossover appeal" to a broad, non-academic audience—unlike some other critical writing, which "sometimes doesn't cross the hall in the English department."]

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