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Paul Reyes

Paul Reyes is VQR’s Editor and is the author of Exiles in Eden: Life Among the Ruins of Florida’s Great Recession. He has published several articles in VQR, including “Opportunity Knocks,” his essay about the Miami organization Take Back the Land, which was a finalist for a Harry Chapin Media Award. His writing—which has also appeared in Harper’s, the New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, LitHub, and the Oxford American—has earned him a nomination for a National Magazine Award in Feature Writing as well as a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.


Meeting the Privilege

Winter 2023 | Editor's Desk

This issue continues a run of powerful photodocumentary work for VQR, beginning with Michael O. Snyder’s narrative portrait of drag-queen culture in a northern Appalachian town in the 2023 Spring/Summer double issue, followed in the Fall by Robin Alysha Clemens’s chronicle of a homeless community in western Ukraine transformed by the war. Here we feature Lynn Johnson’s visual saga of families who use medicinal cannabis to treat medically fragile children. Each of these projects powerfully articulates the ways in which people respond to the intense pressures that bear down on them. What’s more, each reflects a years-long commitment to building the singular experience we find in longitudinal storytelling.

The Health-Care Castle

Fall 2023 | Editor's Desk

My son suffered a gruesome injury at the beginning of summer—on the last day of school, just a few minutes before I picked him up from a get-together with his rat pack of middle-school pals. Tag in the woods behind the house, night coming on. Tripped on a root along the path, fell head-first onto the jagged end of a fallen branch.

Photo by Michael O. Snyder

Fresh Storylines

Spring/Summer 2023 | Editor's Desk

“The Queens of Queen City” is photographer Michael Snyder's immersive photodocumentary, nearly a decade in the making, of the drag community of Cumberland, Maryland, in northern Appalachia. Just a few images into it, I was struck by what its premise asked of me, because, by engaging with it and being honest about the surprise that drew me in, I had to confront a reflexive bias: How can drag culture thrive in such a deeply conservative part of the country? This paradox gives the project its magnetic pull, but the dissonance is illusory, and purposefully so, as it mirrors Snyder’s own edification about the region where he grew up. Of course queer communities have claimed space in Appalachia. That’s because it is far more complex and nuanced than we tend to give it credit for being.

Cover illustration by Matt Dorfman


Winter 2022 | Editor's Desk

For all the intentionality behind each issue of VQR, there are plenty of accidents and unexpected outcomes that happen along the way. Half of them are lucky; the rest we wrestle with until they fit the larger puzzle. Every magazine improvises while editors learn to embrace unpredictability.

Illustration by George Butler

War Stories

Fall 2022 | Editor's Desk

The laws of war make for a brittle pact at best, and can seem like a tragic fallacy up against an army’s nihilistic impulses. Russia’s tactics in Ukraine prove as much: atrocities in Bucha; the bombing of a maternity hospital in Kharkiv; imprisoning and terrorizing children in Yahidne; the shelling of civilian evacuees fleeing Irpin.

Cover illustration by Agostino Iacurci

Ways of Attention

June 27, 2022 | Editor's Desk

Joy seems hard to sustain these days if you’re paying close enough attention to the world around you. A somber mood with which to kick off a Summer Fiction issue, but it lands amid crises both familiar and new.

Push Factors

Spring 2022 | Editor's Desk

By the time we finalized the layout for Ara Oshagan’s photo essay about the Armenian diaspora in Lebanon, his decade-long project comprising memoir and documentary, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was underway, with horrific consequences.

Metaversal Truths

Winter 2021 | Editor's Desk

I made it about halfway through Meta’s promotional video for its metaverse project before quitting, a little shaken by the misanthropic future it promised.


Erin Thompson’s Notes to Self

Fall 2021 | Interviews

If the summer of 2020 had a visual refrain, it was of statues coming down, the likes of Jefferson Davis and Christopher Columbus being sawed and pulled from plinths, dragged into rivers.

Photograph by Louie Palu

Stories from the Forever War

Fall 2021 | Editor's Desk

The last US service member to leave Afghanistan’s soil after nearly twenty years of war did so just a minute shy of the midnight deadline on August 30. The gruesome chaos that unfolded in the days leading up to that departure, after the hasty withdrawal of US and NATO troops unleashed a rapid sweep of Taliban forces that recaptured the country in less than ten days, left many of us wondering what all the sacrifices of a twenty-year war had been for.

The Dialectic of Patriotism

Summer 2021 | Editor's Desk

According to Jasper Johns, his iconic 1955 painting Flag came to him in a dream (a rather literal one) in which he saw himself painting an American flag. The next morning, he went out and bought the materials to do it. Like many great works of art, Flag is many things to many people. It is also deceptively straightforward—its disruptive power, in fact, lies both in its directness (Johns painted Flag at the height of abstract expressionism) and in the implications of his technique. Johns worked partly in encaustic, using hot wax and pigment layered over strips of newspaper and fabric. As art historian Isabelle Loring Wallace has written, encaustic was a largely abandoned technique, an anachronistic signature “most closely associated with a group of remarkable Egyptian funerary portraits. Affixed to the deceased’s mummy prior to burial, these highly realistic portraits from the second century were designed to preserve the image of the dead, just as Flag...preserved aspects of contemporary American painting at the very moment when Johns was laying to rest various aspects of this moribund tradition.”


The Year of Separation

Spring 2021 | Editor's Desk

The anniversary of the coronavirus pan- demic isn’t marked by a single date so much as a grim series of them, from the mysterious illnesses reported in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, to the first recorded cases of COVID-19 in January 2020, and all the dates marking its ruthless progression since. The anniversaries are staggered depending on where you were last year—London or Singapore, Seattle or Madrid. My own memory takes me back to March 5, 2020, trying to stay calm on a flight to New York. I landed maskless—nearly everyone was, astonishing in hindsight—with news of eighteen cases of COVID-19 just north of the city. I stayed holed up in my hotel room for the most part, wiping every surface, watching the news obsessively. When I did go out, I walked—thirty blocks, forty blocks—too anxious to take the subway or a cab. By the time I flew home, three days later, cases had topped a hundred statewide, with the first one in the city itself. My last night there, several of us went out for a nervous but spirited dinner. It was the last time I hugged a friend; it’s been a year and counting since.

Basic Needs

December 3, 2020 | Editor's Desk

Looking back on 2020 feels a lot like looking back on two years at once. Or maybe it’s two countries—or, more precisely, dissonant ideas of a country I thought I knew well enough, even with a healthy skepticism, but whose transformation and revelations have made even that skepticism seem naïve. Against the backdrop of a malignant presidency, the year began with familiar emergencies, from environmental (wildfires) to humanitarian (immigration) to diplomatic (Iran). Cut to spring and a national reckoning with the brutal realities of Black life in America, coupled with the existential threat of a virus that by Thanksgiving, in this country alone, had infected almost thirteen million people and killed more than a quarter million. 

Citizenship in the Twenty-First Century

September 8, 2020 | Editor's Desk

Citizenship is not inherently political, and yet it is impossible to escape its politicization. In this century, citizenship—the status, the idea, the very word itself—has been politicized to extremes, commodified and weaponized in unprecedented ways. It has become a third rail of conversations and campaigns. And to the degree that it is wrapped up with notions of patriotism, it is often used as a litmus test for legitimacy. All of which is to say that citizenship—its privileges, its responsibilities, even its attainability—is a topic whose complexities can disappear against a vitriolic backdrop.

Solidarity in Story

Summer 2020 | Editor's Desk

As I write this, on a Saturday in May, the Class of 2020 has begun, through virtual ceremonies across the country, their transition into an adulthood they couldn’t have imagined six months ago. The encouragement being given to them resonates, eeril [...]

Illustration by Oscar Reyes

Bedtime Stories

Fall 2019 | Editor's Desk

I can’t claim to have had a love affair with picture books when I was a boy. We read them, or at least my mother recalls falling asleep halfway through, but my parents weren’t really bookish types.


Spring 2018 | Editor's Desk

In the last days of deadline, poring over pages, unexpected confluences began to take shape between stories in this issue and stories outside the magazine—stories that seemed unrelated at first but eventually fell into a kind of thematic syncopation.

The Ways of Justice

Fall 2017 | Editor's Desk

We were just three weeks out from closing this issue when the Unite the Right movement—comprising Nazis, white nationalists, and Klansmen, among others—descended on Charlottesville and provoked a weekend of bedlam and terror that left scores injured and three dead. The community here was devastated at first, then rallied behind the loss of its own. But the fact that Unite the Right had chosen Charlottesville to begin with has triggered a painful conversation about the ugly racial dynamics that underlie what’s often referred to as “one of the happiest cities in America.” Many here feel it’s long overdue.

Illustration by George Butler

The Promises of a Continent

Spring 2017 | Editor's Desk

In the fall of 2015, as Europe scrambled to address the wave of refugees crossing into the continent, German chancellor Angela Merkel claimed the moral high ground when she announced that Germany would take in nearly 1 million asylum seekers. This would have been a dramatic gesture even without the backdrop of nationalism flaring up in Europe or the xenophobic rhetoric that was poisoning the presidential campaign in the United States, a country whose historical exceptionalism is based, in large part, on the influence of refugees.

Milad Ahkabyar's hand-drawn map of his family's route from Afghanistan to Germany. The journey cost them $26,000, which they raised through selling their home, their livestock, jewelry, whatever they could.

Milad’s Arrival

Spring 2017 | Photography

He doesn’t know his birthday, exactly, because the Gregorian calendar is still a puzzle. But he knows his age, more or less, and he knows where he hails from—a village near Ghazni, Afghanistan, which he visits in dreams now and then. Milad Ahkabyar and his family fled their village in the fall of 2015 to escape persecution from the Taliban. 


Winter 2017 | Editor's Desk

Variations on a theme—from the subarctic up to the heavens, across borders and off the grid. We begin in the north we expect and drift confidently elsewhere, exploring not just the idea of knowing where you are, or where you aren’t, but who else notices.

West African migrants discovered near the Bouri offshore field.

Out of the Sea

Winter 2016 | Photography

In 2015, some 1 million migrants and refugees entered Europe as they fled instability in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. We felt compelled to try to reset the discussion of this crisis. This is how photographer Jason Florio’s portfolio of men, women, and children rescued from the Mediterranean Sea became the cover story of our Winter 2016 issue.

Tanya, in her summer dress, plays with one of her  favorite stray dogs, June 2012.

The Colors of Tiksi

Winter 2014 | Photography

When it thrived—​if such can be said about a village in the Arctic Circle—​Tiksi was home to 12,000 people, many of whom worked at the seaport, the handful of scientific-​research stations, and military bases nearby.

Vultures Rising

Spring 2011 | Essays

One October afternoon in downtown Miami, I met up for a Sunday drive with Peter Zalewski, a condo-slinger whose company, Condo Vultures, has been feeding on the remains of Miami’s real estate implosion. “This is the pit,” he said. “New York City, Chicago—they have their trading pits. This is our pit, this is where we get to trade. I’m buying or I’m selling, that’s all it is. You want to trade pork bellies, go to Chicago. You want to trade Fortune 500 stocks, go to New York. You want to trade real estate, come to Miami.” He sucked on his cigarette. “I mean, what’s the difference between a condo and a pork belly?” he asked, then shrugged. “Not that much.”


(All photographs by Paul Reyes)

Opportunity Knocks

Fall 2009 | Reporting

This is Max Rameau seizing the moment: hunting down foreclosed houses left idle by the banks, or by the city, so that he can take them over. Rameau contends that everyone, no matter what, deserves a home, and he considers the surplus of empty, deteriorating foreclosures a gross waste of a precious resource. “For me, personally,” Rameau says, “it’s about provoking a contentious debate.” And if breaking into a bank’s neglected inventory is the way to get that conversation started, then so be it.

One Shot Fells a Thousand Tons

An iceberg had drifted deep into White Bay, near the hamlet of Sop’s Arm, and was stuck there, depreciating quickly in the mild summer waters. Ed Kean and I were riding up to claim it. This was Newfoundland in June, where every summer the proof of global warming came down in scraps and pieces: icebergs, prehistoric and luminescent, breaking off Greenland’s glacial shelf to float south along the Labrador Current, finally dissolving in the warmer Gulf Stream. During the pleasant months between March and October, several hundred icebergs moved past Newfoundland this way, at an imperceptible pace, in what locals called the migrating season. It had long been a staple of a tourism shtick. For a handful of fisherman for whom the fish had run out—the cod that was once their livelihood now endangered—icebergs had become the next best natural resource, and a way to put their idle nets and gaffs and boats to good use. For Kean, as long as the ice was moving, there was work to be done.

Tom, René, and José on horseback, Alta Habana. (Image courtesy of the author)

Patria y Muerte

Winter 2009 | Essays

My father wanted out. In a matter of days we’d trotted through a vigil for a Cuban childhood interrupted. I had anticipated creeping toward these emotional watersheds. But Hurricane Gustav had thrown us off, tightened the trip’s deadline. So we darted from spot to spot: the house where Rifé brought my father to live; where my father was put to work the next year (La Unica still in operation but with only an elderly woman idly guarding sacks of flour); to Quivicán, where the past crashed down in fits but the dreaded specter of politics was salved by pork and rum and artful bullshitting, by legends of the farm and the physical reality of René’s grave, the mystery of his whereabouts finally made palpable. Through it all, we never stopped sweating. My father, for one, was visibly thinner in a week’s time, his belt, notched by habit, sagging below his waist button. Rather than clearing the air, the storm had brought a worse heat in its wake.