Paul Theroux – Keynote Speaker

Paul Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, and award winning Author and Africa commentator

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Specialist Subjects

  • Africa
  • Adventure
  • Literature


  • English


Paul Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work of travel writing is perhaps The Great Railway Bazaar. He has published numerous works of fiction, some of which were made into feature films.

After moving to London in 1972, Theroux set off on an epic journey by train from Great Britain to Japan and back. His account of this journey was published as The Great Railway Bazaar, his first major success as a travel writer and now a classic in the genre. He has since written a number of other travel books, including descriptions of traveling by train from Boston to Argentina (The Old Patagonian Express), walking around the United Kingdom (The Kingdom By The Sea), kayaking in the South Pacific (The Happy Isles Of Oceania), visiting China (Riding the Iron Rooster), and traveling from Cairo to Cape Town (Dark Star Safari). As a traveler he is noted for his rich descriptions of people and places, laced with a heavy streak of irony, or even misanthropy. Other non-fiction by Theroux includes Sir Vidia’s Shadow, an account of his personal and professional friendship with Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul that ended abruptly after 30 years.

Paul Theroux is recipient of the American Academy and Institute of Arts & Letters Award for literature, the Whitbread Prize for his novel Picture Palace, and the James Tait Black Award for The Mosquito Coast, which was also nominated for the American Book Award along with his earlier travel book The Old Patagonian Express: By Train through the Americas.

His novels Saint Jack, The Mosquito Coast, Doctor Slaughter and Half Moon Street have all been made into films; and his short-story collection London Embassy (1982) was adapted for a British mini-series in 1987. His latest novel, The Lower River, is inspired by his own chilling experience while in the Peace Corps. It the story of Ellis Hock, who flees his sputtering marriage and career for the warmth of Malawi, a country he remembers fondly from a visit as a young man. Upon arrival, he finds his once peaceful village now ravaged by poverty and AIDS, with the villagers relying on deception to survive.

Many of Theroux’s novels are set in exotic locations around the world— both real and imagined—and are inspired by his own prolific travels, which he also chronicles in his highly distinguished body of nonfiction. With the publication of The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train through Asia and The Old Patagonian Express, Theroux established himself as America’s foremost travel writer.

Paul Theroux is described by writer and friend Jonathan Raban as “utterly American, possessing all of those democratic, Yankee, can do qualities.” These traits have served him well on explorations around the world for over fifty years, pen in hand, always with an eye for odd, compelling detail.

Readers depend on his uncompromising, sometimes brazen reportage; audiences remember him for his witty, acerbic asides and the tremendous breadth of literature he brings to bear. Theroux is an avid, impassioned reader and literary scholar. His relentless enthusiasm for the pursuit of new discoveries and an abiding respect and affection for his readers and audience are abundantly evident in person. “…it’s like a friendship [with the reader],” Theroux says.

“…A bond develops if you write a lot of books.” Such qualities have served him well in his long career, fueling a prodigious output of books—more than 47 works of travel writing, short-story collections, novels, criticism and children’s literature since he published his first book, the novel Waldo, in 1967. “Paul Theroux novels are neither apologia nor accusation; wit is his rare medium, and that lays bare both. He is a large, lively, outrageous talent.” —Nadine Gordimer

“Paul Theroux may be one of our most prolific travel writers, but he is also one of our best. The reason for this, I think, is his ability to convey the optimism of travel while refusing to tell lies about what he encounters. You feel hopeful when you read him, and you feel that you’re being told the truth, and that’s a good enough reason to stay with him.” —Carolyn Sylge, New Statesman

In The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari, Theroux returns to the continent he knows and loves best. On an arduous 2,500 mile trek through the bush, he explores the little-traveled territory of western Africa, taking stock of both the place and himself.

His latest book, Mr. Bones: Twenty Stories, is a sparkling and darkly humorous collection of short stories.

Born in 1941, in Massachusetts, Theroux began his travels in earnest after he graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1963. He has lived, taught and written around the world, including Urbino, Italy; the Peace Corps in Malawi, Africa; Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda; the University of Singapore; and the United Kingdom. He currently lives between Maine and Hawaii. In addition to his books, Theroux has published articles in many magazines, including Time, Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Talk, GQ and Esquire.

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