Hello! However you got here, I’m glad you got here.

This is a newsletter about how we seek and tell stories to make sense of a changing world, and our personal and collective place in it.

I’m Emily Ding, a Malaysian writer, journalist, and editor based between Kuala Lumpur (currently) and Berlin. Mostly, you’ll hear from me, and occasionally from other guests.

Sent via email at least once monthly, “Movable Worlds” encompasses the idea of a world in flux, but also a world capable of change to meet the challenges of our age, and—riffing on Hemingway’s moveable feast—the inner worlds we accumulate over time and carry with us wherever we go.

As this newsletter grows, I’d like to look at the world through a lens both emotional and intellectual, both literary and informational—imbued with ideas of identity, memory, culture, and directed by the twin forces of migration and environmental change reshaping our world today.

Beyond the big picture, I’m curious about how the caverns of private lives are impacted by public events. I’d like to learn about the passions and challenges that propel us through the world in our attempt to find our place in it, and how we make or remake places as much as they make and remake us. I also want to explore our feelings of belonging and alienation and the evolving possibilities and fault lines of our overlapping citizenships: of our communities, of our countries, of the world.

During a time of global existential crises when we are, perhaps, in need of new stories to live by, I’d also like to think about how we make sense of the world and tell its stories, and who gets to tell them and for whom.

Readers here are a small community of migrants, travelers, and readers from all over, of different professions and passions. Many are writers, editors, photographers, artists, and designers—storytellers of all stripes.

But at the heart of it, Movable Worlds is for anyone who wants to inhabit their environments more deeply; who wants to explore different ways of belonging more fully to the world; and who wants to make it, through acts of resistance quiet and loud, a better place. It’s about being out in the world as an act of communion, and the interconnectedness of all things.

And despite any romantic talk on journeying, what’s most important is what happens in between: when we stop for a while and try to make sense of a single place—and if we’re lucky, some beauty and meaning for ourselves too.

If all this sounds good, please subscribe to receive letters in your inbox. It’s free by default, or you can make a paid membership to read paywalled dispatches and help fund guest writers.

I hope every letter makes its way to you as a little surprise, and you find something in it that intrigues, tickles, and awes you.

Till we meet next between the lines,

www.emilyding.me / instagram / twitter

P.S. You’ll notice I occasionally mention someone I call W.C., a.k.a “Willing Companion”, in some of my letters. It’s, uhh, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Martha Gellhorn’s referring to Ernest Hemingway as U.C., “Unwilling Companion”, in Travels with Myself and Another 😆

What exactly will I receive in my inbox?

Letters will arrive in the form of curated readings, essays, and conversations across these categories:

  • Landmarkings
    A round-up of essays, journalism, and fiction about how we make sense of a rapidly changing world and our place in it, and how we tell its stories.

  • The Great Affair
    Letters by, and conversations with, friends, acquaintances, and familiar strangers about how they make sense of the world and their place in it.

  • Wayward, Always

    Notes from wherever my curiosity and personal ties take me: on exploring and inhabiting the world, staying still and reflecting, and telling stories.

  • Resurfacing
    A pairing of photos and notes excavated from my haphazard archives.

  • Waggle Dancing
    A reporter’s notebook: the beginning of a journey into the under-storied connections between food, climate, justice, and everything in between. And other environmental stories.

Please note that when you sign up, you are opted in automatically to all categories. If you’d like to opt out of certain ones, please change your account settings—but always keep “Movable Worlds” checked.

Note also that these categories are not “podcasts”—the letters just often contain very short audio notes—so you can ignore instructions telling you to “Set up your podcast app”.

But in a pandemic?

When the coronavirus struck, many of us feared that writing about other places would become irrelevant, but I think it’s even more important now. If fewer people are able to move in the world to see it for themselves, then it is even more incumbent on writers everywhere to provide as close a reflection as possible of the seven billion people with whom we share this planet, and to whom our lives are bound, whether we like it or not. How else are we to make sense of how we relate to one another and where we belong in this world?

Moreover, the pandemic has made clearer how one’s experience during this time can be determined simply by where one is born or resides, and underscores how important the freedom of movement is, and how unhelpful our sedentary bias can be. Should we always move? There are plenty of reasons not to. But there are also plenty of reasons to—and I think the freedom to do so, with reasonable and fair conditions in place, should exist, so that everyone may pursue a life of meaning wherever they may find it. The fact that some others can only ever long for elsewhere, while others have no choice but to leave, and leave again, in pursuit of an ever-elusive dream of home, makes this even more important.

In that vein, I hope this newsletter will, as it slowly grows, also serve to broaden the idea of what we mean when we talk about “global citizens”, “cosmopolitans”, or travelers—to include migrants, refugees, and exiles, who are not always recognized as such in their own right.

What readers are saying

“This looks so wonderful! (In fact, breaking my vow not to sign up for new newsletters for this one!) Everything Emily writes is stellar.” —Abby Seiff

“I want to thank you for your contribution to some really interesting articles. I’ve been enjoying your newsletter; the subject matter is capacious and your writing style is succinct and unique. When I'm reading your webpages, it's like going down another rabbit hole, but one filled with intrigue and relevance.” —Jan Setter

“How to describe Emily Ding’s newsletter? I forgot to have lunch yesterday so I’m going to go with food—it is my nasi campur of newsletters. There’s a bit of everything and depending on my mood this or that will be delicious. The newsletter is about having a sense of place and storytelling, but there’s something else to it.” —Stuart McDonald

“A good thing to read while waiting in line, or anywhere really, is @emilydingwrites’ newsletter. She lives the way I can only dream of, chasing stories deep into parts less trodden.” —Florentyna Leow

“I love welcoming new newsletters into my inbox and this one looks like it’ll be a ripper!” Erin Cook

“For experiences of and insights on travel, for interesting things to read, and to feel your world expand again a little bit, check her newsletter out.” —Cristabel Tan

“Really enjoyed the newsletter, love the range of content on there, especially the article recommendations, and the quotes you picked out! It made me feel like I was reading an actual newsletter, and I was back in the early 00s, traveling around Asia, when Internet cafes were still a thing, and smartphones were not to be seen.” —Lu-Hai Liang

“We need to hear more of Asian solo female travelers! Keep those letters coming, Emily. Thank you for evoking once again the fernweh in me.” —Ying Reinhardt

“Plugging old internet friend @emilydingwrites’ newsletter of curiosities and musings. I look forward to receiving it every time she publishes.” —Jasmin Wong

“Yassssssssss pls follow, for amazing and introspective travel writing, one of my fav travel writers. I am immediately transported to another place reading her things.” —Yaner Lim

How do I sign up and support your newsletter?

Right here.

Subscribing is free by default, and as a free subscriber:

  • you’ll be able to read all public letters,

  • but only free previews of private letters.

If you have the means, however, you can make a paid subscription, whereby:

  • you’ll be able to read all public and private letters,

  • and help me pay guest writers.

Whichever you choose, with so many things and paywalls demanding the attention of our eyeballs these days, I’m grateful simply to have you reading.

If you would prefer to contribute a one-off sum instead of subscribing, you can do it via Paypal:

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Thank you!

How else can I help?

You can help up my follower count on Instagram and Twitter.

Fill in this reader survey to better help me understand who I am writing to.

Buy from my Bookshop.org bookshelf, if you’re in the U.K. Where possible, book links throughout this newsletter will direct there. Essentially, you’ll be supporting independent booksellers (instead of Amazon) and 10% of the sale will come to me.

How can I get in touch?

Just reply to any of my emails, or write to emilydingwrites@gmail.com

You can also DM me on Twitter.

I’d love to hear about your experiences in relation to anything I write about, and I’m happy to receive story tips, reading recommendations (including academic papers), and comments or suggestions on the newsletter.

I would also appreciate a heads-up on factual errors or alternative perspectives. I try always to be accurate, but I’m a one-woman newsletter here and I’m bound to have my blind spots.

You take guest writers?

Yes, I’m currently looking to feature guest letters from writers around the world, especially Southeast Asia. Starting August 2021, I hope to publish at least one every two months. Past letters here.

For original personal essays/narrative reportage between 1,000 and 2,000 words, the fee is USD150. You can go longer if your piece requires it, but regretfully, I’m unable to increase the fee for now. For previously published pieces (possibly with some light reworking), I can offer USD50. I also pay the requisite transfer and exchange-rate charges. I’m self-funding all this, helped by what I receive in paid subscriptions, and hope to be able to pay more in the future. You’ll also receive a year’s complimentary subscription.

If you’re interested in contributing, just fill in this form to introduce yourself with a couple of published or unpublished clips (young writers welcome; it’ll be a chance to workshop a story, if you like), and I’ll get in touch to discuss ideas that could be a good fit. If you already have a fairly good idea of what you’d like to write about, pitch away already.

There are no real confines. You should explore your thoughts and experiences freely without any particular “message” in mind or any contrivance of connection to place, though you would use the idea of place, and all its connections, as a starting point. Your piece just has to be imbued with what Kapka Kassabova calls “the alchemy between places and people”.

I should also note that guest letters here are not so much about “travel” travel as they are about exploring, inhabiting, and making sense of the world—and our personal and collective place in it.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Any disclaimers?

I guess I should note, because of the way the internet is going: this newsletter is colored by my own particular sensibilities, but not all the time. I may sometimes recommend reads I don’t fully agree with or feature people whose world views don’t entirely align with mine—if they offer a good starting point for discussion and, more importantly, reflect the variety of lived experiences in the world. I may even change my mind from one letter to the next.

Writing a newsletter is, by its very nature, an ongoing conversation rather than any kind of comprehensive literary project. While being somewhat intentional about what I do here, I also want to let things hang loosely enough so that I can feel free to follow what interests me at any given time. In this way, I hope Movable Worlds will be a continuous—if haphazard—discovery, each letter building on the one before. In times of such rapid change, when old certainties are giving way, nothing can be the last word on anything.

How this newsletter has evolved

It started out as a personal experiment, and I hope it’ll continue to evolve freely. It first began in 2019 as an ad-hoc reporting diary—in which I shared unpublished fragments of human stories I found while on assignment—as well as haphazard lists of reading and culture recommendations. I posted only sporadically, with months-long gaps between letters.

But amid the pandemic, I felt I wanted to be more intentional and expansive with this newsletter. I’ve since refined its mission statement and consolidated the archives, in categories, to better reflect the tweak in focus. Since June 2021, I’ve been publishing at least once (more often twice) every month, and hope in time to build something of more consequence here.

In November 2021, I changed the overarching name of this newsletter to Movable Worlds, to better encompass everything I might conceivably want to do with it, and gave “The Great Affair” over to the guest section.

Again, if you would like to receive these letters in your inbox, please subscribe. It’s free, or you can choose a paid membership to read paywalled letters and help fund guest writers.