The Pakistani British novelist Kamila Shamsie’s words remain true: “A woman walking alone after midnight is always too conscious of being alone to properly inhabit that space which is solitude.” In a similar vein, the writer Garnette Cadogan’s “Walking While Black”—which you won’t find in Minshull’s recent anthology—describes the “cop-proof wardrobe” that enables safe public walking: “Light-colored oxford shirt. V-neck sweater. Khaki pants. Chukkas. Sweatshirt or T-shirt with my university insignia.” His essay asks us to consider how a literary creation can germinate on a stroll when “the sidewalk [is] a minefield.”
As I sampled the genre, as well as countless articles and ads attesting to the creative effects of walking, I began to feel uneasy about the proselytizing mission. Is membership in the “Order of Walkers” quite the liberation it seems? Even those lucky enough to belong to its ranks might ask themselves how undistracted solitude and untethered mind-wandering can prosper when walking is constantly justified in terms of productivity. The 21st-century walking revival may have begun as a political critique, but it has found itself co-opted by the very forces it seeks to resist.