May 7, 2012
Journalist and Author.
Sam Quinones is a journalist, storyteller, former LA Times reporter, and author of three acclaimed books of narrative nonfiction.
His most recent book is Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Bloomsbury Press.
His career as a journalist has spanned almost 30 years. He lived for 10 years as a freelance writer in Mexico, where he wrote his first two books.
In 2004, he returned to the United States to work for the L.A. Times, covering immigration, drug trafficking, neighborhood stories, and gangs.
In 2014, he resigned from the paper to return to freelancing, working for National Geographic, Pacific Standard Magazine, the New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine, and other publications.
You can learn more about his work by visiting his website: www.samquinones.com
Why does immigration reporting matter today?
It probably matters more than it ever has, due to the ease with which people cross borders, and the enormous influence of media worldwide informing people of what life is like elsewhere. It’s a rare country not affected by immigration — either sending or receiving. Above all, what is important is storytelling about immigrants.
Too often reporting boils down to reporting on political sides in an immigration debate. I find that to be tedious and excessive.
The stories of immigrants are where reporters should be focusing their efforts.
What resources would you recommend on the topic? (articles, websites, video, movies, books, etc.).
I think immigration reporting has more to do with storytelling than anything else.
Thus my favorite books are really by good storytelling journalists, though they may have little to do with immigration. Calvin Trillin is one of the best, I think.
Almost anything he writes is fodder to learn how to better tell a story.
William Zinsser’s book “On Writing Well” is the best book written about writing, I think. I
know they don’t have to do with immigration, but rather good writing and storytelling. But I think they’re all connected.
What makes an outstanding reporter?
Curiosity above all.
Also the desire to explore a story, dig into it, and tell others about it. Added to that is the ability to leave all political preconceptions to the side, being intellectually healthy and let facts tell you what the story is. Thus the willingness to immerse yourself in a story is also very important.
Who are your journalism inspirations?
Calvin Trillin just for his pure storytelling ability.
Mexican journalist Alma Guillermoprieto is another who does well.
I’m above all inspired by stories that I hear. It’s a little like my religion. No matter how bad things get around a newsroom, I know that I can go out and talk to people and find their stories and that will renew my energy and inspiration for the job.
While on the ground, what is your most memorable anecdote?
In the last chapter of my second book I tell the story of how I was run out of Chihuahua by drug-smuggling Old Colony German Mennonites.
A truly terrifying, not to mention, surreal experience. Also, my time spent with folks dedicated to promoting opera in Tijuana.
Every July they hold the annual Opera Street Festival, which is one of the surreal, great arts events in Mexico because it takes place a couple hundred yards from the wall between the two countries in a neighborhood more known for street gangs and plaster Mickey Mouse statues than anything else.
It was put together by folks who just had a passion for opera, which means they’re almost like underground war resistors in a town like Tijuana, which values cheap commerce and chaos above all else.
(More information on Sam Quinones’ book “Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream can be found on his website).