Fasten your seatbelts for an amazing read!
I recently spoke with author Mark Chestnut about his new memoir Prepare for Departure: Notes on a single mother, a misfit son, inevitable mortality and the enduring allure of frequent flyer miles. Mark is coming to New Orleans to be a speaker at the Tennessee Williams & New Orleans Literary Festival and the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival. His panel discussion will be on Sunday, March 26, entitled “Memoir: Connecting to the Human Experience.”
Chesnut is a New York City-based journalist, editor, and public speaker with more than 20 years of experience. The 2019 winner of the NLGJA Excellence in Travel Writing Award, Mark has written for Fodor’s, Forbes Travel Guide, HuffPost, The Miami Herald, Travel + Leisure Mexico, The New York Times bestseller 1,000 Places To See Before You Die and the inflight magazines of Aeromexico, American Airlines and Avianca. Prepare for Departure is his first creative nonfiction book.
Prepare for Departure is a memoir about a mother, a son and the journeys that families sometimes must take together. For Chesnut, overwhelming wanderlust was the result of a misfit childhood and an indulgent upbringing by a single mother. At an early age, he learned to dodge discomfort by jumping on the nearest plane, bus or car. That tactic proved especially useful when his mother made it clear that there was no room for discussion about his gay identity.
Now, as 89-year-old Eunice Chesnut moves to a New York City nursing home to spend her final weeks near her son, Mark embarks on the most emotional journey of all. Prepare for Departure showcases what happens when a permissive mother and a travel-obsessed son face death while revisiting life — from airport shoplifting to avoiding Southern Baptist salvation, from acting like Hillary Clinton in a nursing home to hanging with a drugged-out grandfather, from creating an imaginary airline to flying away and finding a place in the world.
As a bona fide “Mama’s Boy” who is learning how to care for his 80-years-young mom as she begins to deal with illnesses and all the issues of getting older, I can relate to this book on so many levels. In this memoir, Mark revisits their lives together such as his coming out while he was in college and home for the Christmas break. He was so nervous when he told his mom, he was actually standing in a different room.
This book is more than an end-of-life memoir or a collection of childhood memories and travel stories, it is about two people’s relationship through the decades. Travel does play a major role in the book as a form of escapism for a gay kid living in a small town. To get away from the pressure of his roots, Mark traveled and fortunately his mother allowed him to follow this passion.
The festival will not be Mark’s first time in New Orleans. He explains, “I came to New Orleans for two months last winter during the pandemic. For the first month, I rented an AirBnB in the CBD and then stayed the second month in a friend’s apartment in the Lower Garden District. What I enjoy most about the city is just strolling and discovering everything. It is a pretty accessible city and the neighborhoods are wonderful to walk through. The French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny, Garden District and Warehouse District are some of my favorite areas. The city has its own unique language and culture. And your food is pretty great. I especially love bread pudding. New Orleans is also a very welcoming city to the LGBTQ+ community and such a historic literary destination.”
In addition to speaking at the festival, Mark will also be making a presentation at the New Orleans Grief Counsel. Grief is another major theme in the book and is normally something people are uncomfortable discussing. In 2015, when his mother’s health started to decline, he decided to keep a journal. It was a form of therapy for him, writing about the things not only happening to his mother and how she is dealing with them, but his emotions and struggles with the situation.
I look forward to seeing Mark speak at the Festival. If you would like to find out more about Mark and his adventures, check out his website at www.markchesnut.com.