In the summer of 2017, I was one of five Scottish writers chosen by Edinburgh International Book Festival to undertake journeys across the Americas.
I travelled through the United States for three weeks, from north to south, beginning in North Dakota, through Appalachia, and ending in Louisiana. For much of this time I was accompanied by the novelist Jennifer Haigh. I wrote the diary posts below as we travelled.
Today we made a long eastward drive that felt, too, like a journey south. From Manhattan we made our way to Kansas City (which is not in Kansas), and ate lunch on a platform overlooking the Missouri River. This is North America's longest river – known as the Big Muddy – which we first saw in its upper reaches, in North Dakota.
The Union Pacific Railway, Kansas City, Missouri.
For the bulk of this trip I'll be avoiding big cities and big roads, but today an exception was made. The interstate took us east across Missouri, and by the time we reached St Louis it felt almost like another country. Here, the vowels are longer, the accent more southern; and the racial diversity is much greater. Ferguson, part of the St Louis metropolitan area, was one of the birthplaces of the Black Lives Matter movement, after the shooting of Michael Brown by police in 2014. Tomorrow I'll be speaking to Tishaura Jones, a prominent supporter of BLM, as well as Treasurer of the city.
Today was my first sighting of the Mississippi River, close to the astonishing metal Gateway Arch (you can get a lift to the top – 630 feet up in the air – if you are mad enough). The Missouri joins the Mississippi here in the city, and I'll meet the river again in another couple of weeks, in Louisiana, where it reaches the sea.