One of the highlights of Tampa Review 49 is a new essay by J. Malcolm Garcia, who continues to witness and reflect on trouble spots around the world. His latest contribution, “Praying in Reyhanli,” was written after spending time with refugees in Syria and Turkey.
Recent events have only underscored the importance of intelligent, unbiased reporting from this part of the world. The horrific beheadings of journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley reminded me of the imminent danger that Malcolm faces in his freelance work. As I unpacked the first hardback copies of Tampa Review 49 from the printer while listening to some of the latest reports on NPR, I found myself wondering where Malcolm might be at the moment and what new reporting assignments he had in mind for himself. I decided I’d ask him, and I thought that readers might also find his reply interesting. With his permission, I’m posting it here on Tampa Review Online, where it can serve as an introduction and a supplement to his work on our printed pages.
Thank you for your note. Some flattering news: “My Middle Age” [published in Tampa Review 45/46] was named a “notable” essay in The Best American Essays 2014. Thank you again for accepting it for publication and putting up with the odd proofreading process we went through while I was in Syria and Turkey.
I appreciate your offer to write an updated commentary or add some recent notes on developments in the Middle East. The translator I worked with has returned to Syria and we’ve been communicating via Facebook. I’ll try to reach him via Skype, and perhaps I could put together some sort of essay about our experiences. At the same time, the translator I worked with in Kabul, where I just returned from, is under threat by pro-Islamists for working with a Westerner. These two developments together might make for interesting reading.
If I had to categorize myself, I’d say I’m kind of a grassroots writer. Rather than offer my personal thoughts, I’d like to get the commentary from the ground, from the people feeling it, if that makes sense. I’m not much of a pundit.
I’m working on a couple of things—a trip to Cambodia to write about deportees there, and in a similar vein, I’m looking at going to Tijuana to write about deported veterans. These are guys who served honorably in the U.S. armed forces, got out, committed a felony (usually drug-related), and because they are not citizens they are deported to their country of origin, which they know about as well as you and I would, since they grew up in the States but just weren’t citizens because they had been born in another country. It’s a substantial story, and very few people are aware of it.
Also, I’m looking at Iraq. But it’s a matter of balancing logistics and costs. I’m not much of a freelancer in terms of livelihood. My outlets are mostly small magazines that through no fault of their own cannot pay much, if at all. I’m blessed to have been published in Tampa Review and other small magazines, because the editors allow and even encourage creative approaches to nonfiction storytelling. So I have no complaints. But as a result I work temp jobs in-between travels to earn the money to go.
I had one commercial gig that paid handsomely, but the editors butchered the story and they made it clear I had no input in the process. So, I’ve sworn off them. And as a result of sticking to my voice despite its faults, I have a “notable” essay of which I am very proud in a magazine I’m very proud to be in . . . and if there is an afterlife, I hope my good friend Tom (the subject of “My Middle Age,” if you recall) is proud of this, too.
Well, I’ve prattled on longer than you asked or have time for, so I’ll close now, but I’ll get back to you about the commentary and let you know when I think I can get you something. Right now I’m working up my new Afghanistan piece (I spent three weeks with street children), but I’ll make time for TR, no problem. It is my hope to submit again to you next year when one or all of these proposed trips I described jells. I know I’ll have more than one story out of each of them, and I’d be pleased to be considered for publication again in Tampa Review.