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Author Matthew Goodman Takes Readers Around the World

Pat Kenney
Campus News Editor




In 1873, French author Jules Verne changed the way people thought about travel with the publication of his book, “Around the World in Eighty Days.”

Verne and his fictional character, Phileas Fogg, became international celebrities and inspirations to many who dreamt of circumnavigating the globe. Up until 1869, global travel was thought to be an occasion for the wealthy or adventurous.

However, with the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad in America (in 1869), the linking of the Indian Railroads (1870) and the opening of the Suez Canal (1869), global tourism became more and more popular.

Many have tried to follow in Fogg’s fictional footsteps, none more famous then Nellie Bly, who started her journey in 1889.

Author Matthew Goodman chronicled Bly’s journey in his award-winning book, “Eighty Days,” which he will be reading excerpts from at Springfield College on Tuesday, Feb. 11, as part of the William Simpson Fine Arts Series

Setting out to break the record for the fastest trip around the world, Bly’s story is not one to overlook.

“She decided that she was going to do it. She was going to travel the world in fewer than 80 days,” said Matthew Goodman, author of “Eighty Days,” which tells the story of Bly and her travels, in an NPR interview last March.

Born in Pittsburgh, Elizabeth Jane Cochran, a scrappy, spirited girl, eventually found herself writing for the Pittsburgh Dispatch, where she took up the alias “Nellie Bly.”

In 1887 Bly got a job writing for Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, the New York World, where she launched a new type of investigative journalism.

“[Bly] was a remarkable journalist unlike anyone has ever seen before,” Goodman told NPR. “No one had ever seen a journalist who was so audacious, so willing to risk her personal security in pursuit of a story.”

In a time where most female journalists were tossed aside and given pieces about fashion and motherhood for the neglected woman’s page, Nellie Bly stood above the rest and didn’t back down.

“[Bly] once pretended to be insane in order to get committed to a Lunatic Asylum, where she spent 10 days,” Goodman told NPR. “She then wrote a series of articles exposing the harsh conditions inside the Asylum, which eventually led to reform.”

So on November 14th, 1889, Nellie Bly decided to do the seemingly impossible and travel the world in less than 80 days, surpassing Phileas Fogg’s fictional time. However, Bly was not alone.

John Walker, the owner of the monthly magazine Cosmopolitan, caught wind of Pulitzer’s “publicity stunt” and decided to send his own journalist, Elizabeth Bisland, around the world.

Bisland’s job was to log her travels and beat Nellie Bly. So on the same day as Bly departed from New York headed east towards Europe, Bisland headed west towards the Pacific, kicking off what would be a historic rivalry.

“It was a time where women were fighting for their rights, so to have two women traveling the world by themselves was definitely a feat in and of itself,” commented Goodman, in an interview with The Student, about Bly’s and Bisland’s journeys.

Looking to challenge himself and step away from his comfort zone as a writer, Goodman, a Brooklyn native, decided that he was going to write a book with a female as the main character. Little did he know that his book would contain two leading ladies.

Although he grew up near the old Nellie Bly Amusement Park in Brooklyn, N.Y., Goodman had no idea who Bly was and what an impact she had as a woman and a writer.

“I had no idea just how remarkable [Bly] was.”

“Eighty Days” not only showcases the history of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, but it engulfs the reader and places them alongside the two heroines as they make their way through foreign lands in pursuit of the same dream.

Aside from being the iTunes Best Book of the Month, “Eighty Days” was a New York Times and Indie Bound best seller, propelling Goodman to give book readings at the Museum of the City of New York, the Brooklyn Book Festival, and the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

“I was delighted when I found out it was a best seller,” said Goodman. “It is my first time being a best seller. Of course I owe a lot of the credit to my publisher and I am gratified by all of my readers’ comments.”

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