Pioneering travel writer’s adventures began at SF State
May 1, 2008 2:18 PM
In the time between traveling the ancient roads of Europe and a walking tour of the Serengeti plains, adventure writer and SF State alumnus Tim Cahill stopped by the university yesterday to talk about his unexpected pursuit of “literate” writing about the outdoors.
One of the early pioneers of Outside magazine, Cahill shared his advice for budding journalists, including that accuracy is paramount in even the descriptive and first-person writing of “New Journalism.”
“I draw the line absolutely at the truth. You cannot step over that line,” Cahill said, “Reality, in and of itself, will make a story for you.”
A former writer for Rolling Stone, Cahill became involved when the magazine decided to launch Outside in 1977.
“I was one of the only people at Rolling Stone magazine that liked to go outside,” Cahill quipped.
Years later, after adventures that included falling screaming through the jungle into a pack of frightened gorillas, Cahill said that one can only really know what they’ve prepared all their lives for when they get there.
It was a favor, a write-up to accompany a friend’s lithographic bird illustration, that made it into the San Francisco Examiner and gave Cahill his first taste of reporting.
Cahill knew nothing about birds, but he had spent time playing dead in a Mount Tamalpais field and observing the scavenging turkey vultures that gathered overhead. His friend agreed to draw the birds and Cahill went to work.
“Write what you know,” Cahill advised.
After making only $700 in two years of writing fiction, Cahill found himself needing a job and had the Examiner knocking on his door.
He found a niche in colorful, personal stories like a second-by-second narritive of an Olympic swimmer’s winning sprint, and he soon began to realize what all his education had prepared him for.
Cahill encouraged writers to visit “Flowbee,” a place “where you hook into the universal consciousness,” as they write.
“Somehow, the connections that you didn’t know exist occur to you when you’re in that state,” he said.
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