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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.

Author

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.

Remainders

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.

Northmanship

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.

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.