In The Fruit of All My Grief: Lives in the Shadows of the American Dream (Seven Stories, Sept.), journalist Garcia empathetically profiles people harmed by governments, the court system, and companies.
How do you approach the process of exploring people’s lives and sharing their stories?
It really just requires devoting a lot of time. I don’t go in with a list of questions, thinking that I’ll spend 20 minutes here and be done. I hope that they’ll allow me to shadow them, to literally spend time with them, jotting down everything they say and everything I’m seeing, and really get into their lives, so I can come back and write a three-dimensional portrait that portrays them as real people and not just quotes.[I like to spend days with subjects]
, sometimes asking questions, but a lot of times not saying anything, just listening and watching. Often the silence allows them people to initiate a conversation on the very subject I wanted to talk about, or gives them time to reflect and bring up subjects that I might not have even thought about. They get very comfortable and begin talking about their lives as if they’re talking with someone they’ve known for years. Because you’re spending time with them, it’s casual. It’s not an interrogation. It’s a day of conversation.
What is it like to work with the people whose stories you seek out?
I feel a sense of renewal in people’s resiliency, and their lack of bitterness. I’m impressed by their willingness to go on. People seem satisfied that their story has been told, and a little surprised that I saw value, because for them a lot of what they went through is just part of their life. They don’t see it as something that stands out.
Are you hoping that your readers are going to find a call to action in your work?
First and foremost, I hope they read it as a good nonfiction short story. Then, if there’s a wrong, I want to express that wrong through the eyes of the people who’ve experienced it, so that readers will be will be moved by those people, not by me advocating. I don’t pretend to know what readers will do with the information. But, at the very least, they’ll think about it. Oftentimes things that are easily dismissed are actually very complicated and deserve our consideration. What do we do when people are getting sick in a war zone? We have to do more than just call them heroes. What do we do when somebody’s been locked up, because he was trying to save the life of his son and he felt he had no alternative? I certainly want my stories to disturb people and to lead them to ask questions.