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The Peripatetic Papers: Synopsis

For twenty years, Annis Pratt lived the peripatetic life of a commuting professor, flying back and forth over Lake Michigan every weekend from the University of Wisconsin in Madison to Detroit, where her husband taught at Wayne State University.

Annis and Henry’s unusual lifestyle, which in its early days they called “our great adventure,” excited a lot of curiosity, including coverage about their “academic separation” in Time magazine:

“Mrs Pratt never missed a homecoming – or a class.

‘One time, though, I had to run out on the airstrip and wave at the plane until it stopped, and they let me on. The other passengers cheered.’  ” – Time, July 9, 1973.

During the long years of commuting, as their two daughters grew up and left home(s) while she kept on picking and pocking back and forth across Lake Michigan like a ping pong ball, the great adventure became more of a great pain.  So, when Annis reached her mid-fifties, she throw her Full Professorship out the window to see what it would be like to be a full-time writer and community activist in the Detroit Metropolitan region.

Although she thought she had finished with traveling, the peripatetic gene remained dominant. Once she had put academic life behind her, it began to seem funny, so she dug up travel diaries she had been stashing away and recast them as the stories, which became The Peripatetic Papers.  The first part of the book deals with the years before she left academe, the second with subsequent travel adventures, and the third with travels after the death of her husband in 2000.

Although the book covers Annis Pratt’s quirky commuting lifestyle, it is less of an academic biography than a travel memoir in humorous diary mode. In addition to chapters about her Wisconsin experiences and Van Winklish visits to New York City, she recounts trips to Indianapolis, Washington DC, Chicago, Toronto, and London.

In The Peripatetic Papers, Pratt discovers that her daughters are more reconciled to her quirky mothering than she had realized, and that she has fonder memories of her own parents and childhood in New York City than she had previously acknowledged.  She weaves her diary entries into the story of a woman in her fifties diving below the busy surface of a successful career to quest for a wry but palpable happiness.