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Author Jonathan Raban

Remembering Jonathan Raban, a travel writer in name only

By
With Special Guests
  • Christopher Frizzelle

The Seattle -based author floated down the Mississippi, sailed Alaska's Inside Passage, and documented failed homesteads in Montana, all while writing about being an outsider trying to figure out new places.

The author Jonathan Raban passed away last week at age 80. Though born in England, he made Seattle his home in 1990. Even after decades in the city, he still says he felt like an outsider.

"I'm deeply conscious of being and remaining English and this place, for me, being a foreign country," Raban told KUOW's Marcie Sillman in 2013. "I mean, it is surprising to be in a supermarket every so often and hearing voices and thinking, why are these people talking in their accent? I feel myself to be a stranger here."

Raban used that distance to explore and write about other immigrants to the western U.S. He also wrote about trips through Alaska Inside Passage and told the story of deceived homesteaders in eastern Montana, all with insightful prose that illuminated the complexity of everyday life.

"I was in constant awe of Jonathan's wit, his quickness, his mercilessness, and his sense of adventure," said Christopher Frizzelle, who created the Silent Reading Party in Seattle and knew Raban. "He was particularly brilliant at the intersection of literary criticism and global politics."

Frizzelle noted that, while some obituaries called him a travel writer, that label didn't necessarily fit Raban's work.

"He didn't write about hotels and restaurants," Frizzelle said. "He went on adventures to Arabia, for example, or floating down the Mississippi River or sailing by himself to Alaska. And he used those adventures as an excuse to write about life's biggest subjects."

Jonathan Raban's memoir "Father and Son" is due out this fall.

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