Alum shares travel stories
Steven Weinberg ‘06 returned to the Hill on April 7 to talk to members of the College community about his book, To Timbuktu, released on March 1. To Timbuktu recounts Weinberg’s adventures with his girlfriend Casey Scieszka during their time living and traveling abroad after college.
Weinberg and Scieszka met while studying abroad in Morocco during their junior year of college. “After we studied abroad, we kind of went our separate ways,” Weinberg said. However, they began dating again in January of their senior year, spending “several weeks together in Brooklyn when [Scieszka] was on break and [Weinberg] was off, too, having done [his] required JanPlans.”
The couple moved to China during the summer after their graduation, where they taught English to students in pre-school, first grade and middle school for five months. They then took a backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. Because Scieszka received a Fulbright to complete research on what Weinberg described as “the role of Islam in [Mali’s] education system,” the couple set up camp in Timbuktu (the capital of one of the country’s eight administrative regions). All in all, the couple visited eight foreign countries while overseas from 2006-2008: China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, France, Morocco, Mali and Burkina Faso.
While they were living in Timbuktu in 2007, Weinberg and Scieszka decided that they wanted to write a fictional graphic novel about a construction company located there. However, the literary agent who read their book proposal was more intrigued by their personal story detailed in their cover letter and encouraged them to make their own overseas experience the focus of their writing.
The couple then “started to find a way to craft a story out of all that time [abroad],” Weinberg said. “We started thinking about all of the information we had compiled while we were on the road and in Beijing and Africa.” He and Scieszka looked at pictures from their Facebook albums and surveyed Scieszka’s notes from her Fulbright research. “I’d try to do a cartoon a day whenever I was on the road,” Weinberg said.
Weinberg described To Timbuktu as “sort of a picture book for adults,” and said that mainly, he took responsibility for the book’s illustrations while Scieszka wrote the text. Weinberg said that the book took three years to complete, and remarked that putting it together was “a pretty fun design challenge.” He explained that he and Scieszka worked to create a balance between the text and illustrations while they were compiling the book. “Basically it was finding a way to take our dual narrative.”
During his talk with members of the College community, Weinberg highlighted some of the comical events that he and Scieszka chose to chronicle in To Timbuktu. He recalled his difficulties dealing with energetic first-grade students in Beijing during a game of jump rope, and also elaborated on his strange experience getting called “dumpling head” during a haircut appointment.
Overall, To Timbuktu “is kind of a love story and a story of us learning to work together,” Weinberg said. “When we started living in China, we had no thoughts we’d make a book together.” Weinberg said that he and Scieszka chose the title To Timbuktu because “it seemed like a good way to kind of in-capsulate the whole two years.”
On the Hill, Weinberg majored in art and government. He worked as a cartoonist for the Echo before eventually serving as its editor-in-chief. Weinberg, who is originally from Bethesda, Maryland, was also an active member of the outing club during his time on campus.
Weinberg and Scieszka, who are now living in Brooklyn, “work from a home studio [doing] freelance design and illustration,” Weinberg said. They are currently working on a book series called Spaceheadz with Scieszka’s dad, who is also an author. The couple hopes to publish more books in the future. In addition to their literary endeavors, Weinberg and Scieszka also started a nonprofit, Local Language Literacy Inc., during their stay in Mali. According to the organization’s website, Local Language Literacy “is dedicated to creating, printing and distributing books in local languages and giving them to students.”