Last year, some 1 million migrants and refugees entered Europe as they fled instability in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. The footage of this crisis—of parents begging border patrols for mercy, of drowned men, women, and children—had enough of an emotional impact to spur European leaders into action. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in particular, committed her nation to take in nearly 1 million asylum seekers, a move that was criticized by her political opponents and everyday citizens alike, especially after the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. But there was also consensus that Germany had become the moral conscience of Europe on this human-rights matter.
Stateside, it’s election season, and xenophobic rhetoric has poisoned the national conversation about this crisis. None of the presidential candidates have had much to offer in the way of practical ideas on how to address it; too often those conversations have been subsumed by the topic of national security. Granted, there are strong arguments connecting the current exodus from the Middle East to a national-security policy that led to the destabilization of Iraq more than a decade ago. But in fundamental ways, the concerns should remain distinct.
In light of the irrationality with which the two phenomena have been conflated—equating a Syrian family’s need for stability with an Islamic extremist’s obsession with attacking Westerners—we felt compelled to try to reset the discussion of the migration crisis. This is how photographer Jason Florio’s portfolio of migrants and refugees rescued from the Mediterranean Sea became our cover story.
Florio, a longtime VQR contributor, spent two months last year with the search-and-rescue team of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), an NGO based in Malta that acts as a first responder of the Mediterranean and other seas. Aboard the MOAS ship Phoenix, he was able to document the saving of thousands of lives and gather hundreds of stories from what turned out to be a melting pot of nationalities and faiths, of the poor and middle class alike. These photographs slow down the overwhelming data of the crisis in order to speak to the suffering and hope of the individual, whose deliverance through extreme dangers shows in each expression.
Successfully integrating an entire population—be it in North America or Europe—is a staggering task, and we don’t pretend to know all of the economic, political, and cultural solutions necessary to do it. But we do know that one of the first steps must be to accept refugees as individuals, not merely as “others.” Our nation has been doing this imperfectly for more than 200 years, and has a remarkable history to show for it.
On to some housekeeping: Dana Gioia has agreed to become the VQR Poetry Editor. By restoring this position, we are acknowledging the specialized knowledge of the practitioner that, for example, Gregory Orr brought to our pages for decades.
The former National Endowment for the Arts chairman and an award-winning poet, Gioia shares VQR’s commitment to narrative, whether in vers libre or formal poetry. This issue includes well-established poets whose work has been championed by VQR and Gioia both, as well as many unsolicited poets.
Gioia’s own poetry will not appear in our pages during his tenure, though we did accept his poem on Novalis a year ago and have included it in this issue. We are delighted that it is in his forthcoming retrospective work, 99 Poems: New & Selected.
We are also proud to announce the first VQR Science Editor, Robin Marantz Henig. The president of the National Association of Science Writers, Henig is an award-winning journalist and a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine who has written nine books, including most recently Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck? (coauthored with Samantha Henig).
Lastly, we have added four Editors at Large—Malaika Adero, Alexander Chee, Ram Devineni, and Leslie Jamison, all of whom will seek out talent in their respective disciplines.
Malaika Adero is the publisher of Home Slice and was vice president and senior editor of Atria Books. She is the author of Up South: Stories, Studies, and Letters of This Century’s African American Migrations and serves on the Board of Directors of Poets & Writers.
Alexander Chee is the author of two novels, including The Queen of the Night (Houghton Mifflin, 2016). The recipient of an NEA literature fellowship in fiction, he has written for the New York Times Book Review, Tin House, Guernica, Slate, NPR, and the Wall Street Journal.
Serving as our scout for multimedia projects, Ram Devineni is the founder of Rattapallax films and magazine. He produced, edited, and directed the feature documentary The Human Tower and produced The Russian Woodpecker, which won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. He is the co-creator of the acclaimed augmented-reality comic book Priya’s Shakti.
Leslie Jamison’s New York Times bestseller The Empathy Exams includes her much-heralded essay “The Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain,” which remains our most widely read article. She is a columnist for the New York Times Book Review.
We welcome them all to the editorial team.