Blue Ear Books began in the spirit of my own travel writing. I tried to describe my ethos in this paragraph from my book Alive and Well in Pakistan, about the semester I spent teaching journalism in 2003-04 at the then-new Beaconhouse National University in Lahore:
I decided to try to convey things I had learned from experience as a working reporter and editor: the importance of acquiring and deploying authority – that is, of knowing what you’re talking about – and never writing beyond your authority; the importance of honesty, and of initiative. … I assigned [my students] a piece called “Travel Writing: The Point of It,” in which Paul Theroux advocates writing that’s “prescient without making predictions and argues: “I have always felt that the truth is prophetic, and that if you describe what you see and give it life with your imagination, then what you write ought to have lasting value, no matter what the mood of your prose.”
It all began for me in Haiti in 1982, when I was 16 years old, which is a long story, which is why I wrote a whole book – occasioned by the devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake, though I had been writing versions of it for many years – titled Bearing the Bruise: A Life Graced by Haiti. In a chapter covering my period based in Bangkok beginning in 1993, I wrote:
And I never really left Haiti. It was with the eyes of one who had seen Haiti that I saw chronically desperate Cambodia, and tortured Burma, and deforested Thailand. In my bones I knew that these places were not behind the times, but ahead of the curve. The appalling immediacy of life and death, the perpetual urgency of politics in Haiti had changed me; having set foot there meant that to remain innocent would have required greater exertion than to acknowledge the world’s seamlessness and the implications of my own involvement.
Between Labor Day and Christmas 2012, I made an 18,000-mile mostly solo driving trip around the United States. I thought that particular presidential election might turn out to be historically significant; little did I know. At the end of Home Free: An American Road Trip, I wrote:
One of the motivating premises of my project had been that America was not separate or different from the rest of the world. I had proven that, at least to my own satisfaction. And I had seen for myself that while the United States, plural, might be in some sense a single country, they are also an archipelago of disparate communities. Whether the center would hold was an open question. As things got uglier in Egypt, with a military takeover and then hundreds killed in raids on encampments of ousted President Morsi’s supporters, I remembered the patronizing “Cairo in the Midwest” New York Times headline about the Madison capitol occupation of two and a half years earlier, and the defiance and hope expressed by both the citizens who had challenged Governor Walker and those who had overthrown President Mubarak, and I wondered: If things were turning out this way in Egypt, how could we expect them to turn out in Wisconsin?
In Alive and Well in Pakistan, in a passage about a return visit to Kashmir in 1995, I wrote about “the familiar, ineffably sad sensation” of “coming home to a place I was only passing through.” I think this sentiment describes a universal condition, and I find versions of it expressed in many of the books by other authors that Blue Ear Books has gone on to publish, beginning with Live at the Forbidden City: Musical Encounters in China and Taiwan by Dennis Rea and The Descent into Happiness: A Bicycling Journey over the Cascades and Rockies and across the Great Plains by David Howell.
I always prefer and privilege narrative writing over argument, and this bias is reflected in many of the authors I choose to work with and the books I choose to publish. This preference is reflected in books like When Tribesmen Came Calling: Building an Enduring American Business in Pakistan by Qaisar Shareef and the lovely book of essays Musings of a Nomad by the Pakistani diplomat Aisha Farooqui, and more recently Dennis Rea’s delightful Tuva and Busted and Thomas MacDonald‘s memoir Here Is What Happened: A Black Man’s Discoveries and Decisions. The particular blend of earnest intent and serendipity that has marked my own life and career is expressed in the first paragraph of my introduction to the 2016 reprint of The Experts, the classic Vietnam book by my late mentor Clyde Edwin Pettit:
A chance encounter in line at a Burger King on Silom Road in Bangkok in 1993 changed my life. From that moment I was pulled inexorably into the vortex of Clyde Edwin Pettit’s friendship, which was inseparable from his intellectual influence. My adult life as a payer of attention to events in the world around me would not have been the same without Ed and The Experts.
My own 2019 book A Dirt Road to the Future: Education on the Global Front Lines recapitulates much of what I’ve learned as a writer and traveler.
Blue Ear Books will soon publish an updated edition of Doing Life with Mandela, Christo Brand‘s remarkable memoir of his friendship with the South African leader and global hero, as well as a closely related book by Andrew Russell, Christo’s business manager. We’re also developing a book by Patrick Rutikanga on the generation of Rwandans who were children at the time of the 1994 genocide, and we hope to publish books on the history of Sikkim and on the craft of batik.
– Ethan Casey, Publisher, November 19, 2021