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Week 10/26/20

PUBLISHED: November 2, 2020

In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do. 


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With record-breaking intensity, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has surged past the average 12 named storms per year. When Hurricane Zeta made landfall in Mexico on October 26, it became the 27th named storm of the season and 11th named hurricane.

While hurricanes are notorious for producing tornados and causing widespread destruction, they have another devastating, yet lesser-known effect: Spreading invasive species to new habitats.

When Hurricane Isaias slammed into the Caribbean and eastern U.S. this summer, rising water levels allowed at least 114 non-native aquatic species to ride from one watershed to the next, according to the United States Geological Survey’s Nonindigenous Aquatic Species team.

Since 2017, the scientists have combined flood data and invasive species sightings to map how these animals disperse following Atlantic Ocean hurricanes, as well as study what makes some species more likely to benefit from the storms than others.

Take the apple snail, a family of large freshwater mollusks popular among aquarium owners. Native to South America, the six-inch species first came to America via the aquarium trade, and it has since become a destructive pest in rice fields and other aquatic croplands. Apple snails “actually take air into their shell and float along the water,” says Wesley Daniel, a fishery biologist with the USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research Center in Florida, whose tropical climate has made it a hot spot for invasives. “We’ve seen them spread in numerous hurricanes on the Gulf Coast and in Florida like this.”

Business Manager Diane John
Excerpt from “Intensifying Hurricanes Are Helping Invasive Species Spread Across the U.S.” in National Geographic


On that muggy day in July 2018, it had been two years since Spenser had first emailed me, wanting to connect after reading an essay I’d published, one that revealed our shared family history. My third-great-grandfather, June Moore, had married a woman named Adeline Simril, who, according to Spenser, was once owned by his third-great-grandfather, H. H. Simril. Spenser’s email referred to June and Adeline as heroes of York. In 1871, after a brutal campaign by the local Ku Klux Klan to stop Blacks from voting, June and Adeline emigrated from York to a small Liberian town, helping lead an effort to repatriate their fellow Black South Carolinians in the years that followed. I was born in Liberia, a descendant of those formerly enslaved people who repatriated to the Continent after a dramatic sequence of events had finally caused them to flee the only home they’d ever known. Before Spenser’s note, my attempts at connecting with distant kin from South Carolina included everything from unanswered emails to historians like John Fabian Witt, whose book Patriots and Cosmopolitans makes mention of June Moore and the KKK campaign, to cold calling York County residents who shared my surname. This stranger’s email would bring me closer than I had ever been to resolving my family’s link to America before our immigration in 1991. My interest was piqued.

Art Director Jenn Boggs
Excerpt from “An American Family” in The Virginia Quarterly Review


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