An Interview with Tim Weed:
An Interview with Tim Weed
Tim Weed is an award-winning author, outdoorsman, and independent explorer, and is a founding director of National Geographic Student Expeditions. He’s traveled to Cuba regularly since the late 1990s, and looks forward to introducing students to its diverse landscapes and unique cultures.
What is your connection to Cuba?
I first came to Cuba in 1999 to develop one of the first programs to bring high school students to the island since the 1959 Revolution. I’ve returned almost every year since, with increasing frequency since 2012, when the current round openings began to gain momentum. These days I travel to the island at least four to six times a year.
What is your favorite part about your job as a writer?
The joy that comes from creating something out of nothing—of snatching a dream from the shadowy reaches of the collective unconscious, and then crafting it into a story that will spring to life in the imagination of a reader. I’m also a big fan of the fellowship that exists among all writers, no matter where they are in their careers. It’s wonderful to interact with like-minded dreamers.
What had been your most exciting project with National Geographic?
In Cuba, working with National Geographic has allowed me participate in the process of bringing history into the present in ways that wouldn’t have been possible anywhere else in the world. In the course of my research on the life of Ernest Hemingway for a National Geographic Expeditions lecture, I was able to uncover photographic evidence showing the location of the U.S. Embassy from the WWII years. This was a building on a prominent street in Havana that many Cubans and U.S. visitors walk by every day without knowing its significance. In Cuba, history is a key part of the landscape, and it’s exciting to participate in the process of connecting its physical remnants to the stories that bring it alive.
What makes traveling to Cuba special? What about Cuba do you hope students take away from the program?
In the resiliency, talent, inventiveness, and dignity of its people; in the rustic, well-preserved, and multi-layered physical remnants of its fascinating history; and in the rich expanses of its tropical environment, Cuba is vastly different from any other country in the world. I hope students take away an appreciation for this captivating and rapidly changing Caribbean island.
What advice would you give to aspiring young writers? Any advice you think applies to photographers and cultural geographers as well?
I can boil my advice down to one word: READ. Read voraciously, widely, and adventurously, with an open mind and heart. Embrace the immersion and escape that good writing offers. Reading is an essential prerequisite to becoming a writer, but my advice applies equally to photographers, cultural geographers, and everyone else who wants to live life to the fullest.
If you read, you will never be lonely. You will have a greater appreciation for the world. You’ll be a better thinker, and you’ll strengthen your grasp on the essentially human capacities of imagination, analysis, storytelling, and empathy. Developing a lifelong reading habit will make you a more complete, interesting person. Reading will bring you a kind of long-term fulfillment and happiness that is simply not available in any other way. Do it!
Do you have any advice for students heading out on National Geographic Student Expeditions this summer?
Not to be flip, but carpe diem! Leave electronic devices and social media connectivity at home if you can bear it. If you can’t, strive to experience as many moments as possible of this experience with your eyes wide and your spirit open. You may be surprised as to how far an attitude of adventurous mindfulness will take you.