Interview with Jim Ryerson

Why did you first start writing?
In the late 1960’s there was this little matter of the Vietnam War. I joined the Air Force and for four years kept the Viet Cong from coming across the Mexican border and over-running my Texas Air Base. Since all the fighting was going on 9000 miles away, I had plenty of time which I filled by doing lots of reading and taking courses off base at the local college. One of the teachers was the news director at a local radio station, and he became my mentor. He was a great story teller, and so I decided that’s what I wanted to do – tell stories.

When I got out of the service I went back home to Chicago and finished my degree in Radio and TV at the University of Illinois. I went on to a career in broadcast journalism that included being part of several Emmy Award winning newscasts; having the opportunity to interview all of the living U.S. Presidents, and finally becoming a documentary filmmaker.
What's the story behind your latest book?
In 1998 I read an article about traveling to Cuba through Mexico. The writer made it seem like a fun, unusual, and safe place, but it was illegal for Americans to visit. I’ve been somewhat of a contrarian most of my life, so when I heard that going to Cuba was prohibited, but that people were going anyway, I decided to check it out. And, as a journalist, the travel ban didn’t apply to me.

That first ten day trip changed my life. I experienced an island which was visibly run down, but still had a sense of history and elegance; I met people being paid less than a dollar a day who proudly maintained their culture and dignity. American cars from the 50’s served as taxis, pieced together with whatever these resourceful Cubans could find, and that was just the start of understanding just how creative they had to be to survive.

It was a hard life, and Cubans would gladly tell you about their problems, but there was something else. Amid the challenges of everyday life, they were essentially a happy people. They complained about their government, but it was their government, and not something foisted upon them by the United States, or Spain, or Great Britain. And the “Communist Hell Hole” propaganda coming out of Miami was just that – propaganda.

That was also during the time that Elian Gonzalez was being held in Florida. As a journalist, I saw firsthand the lies being told about Cuba. The stories coming out of Miami saying that children in Cuba were wards of the state and that their parents had no rights were ridiculous. So I decided to tell the stories of the Cuba I saw, the people I met, and what was really going on down there.
Why did you choose to write an anthology of short stories?
After more than 30 trips to Cuba, I thought it would be the best vehicle to share my actual experiences, and the wealth of people based anecdotes would highlight the contradictions that are the daily reality of the lives of the Cuban people.

I owe a great deal of thanks to the Cuban people I’ve met through the years who opened their homes, hearts and culture to an American reporter at a time when that was not the easiest thing to do.
What’s the next project you’re working on?
I’m currently producing another Cuba based documentary based on my story of the 1958 Cuba Grand Prix and the kidnapping of the Argentine Formula One race car driver Juan Manuel Fangio.
Published 2014-02-24.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Swimming To Guantanamo - From Elian to Obama A Decade in Cuba under the U.S. Embargo
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 44,890. Language: English. Published: February 25, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » Essays & Travelogues
Under a U.S. trade embargo imposed half a century ago, U.S. citizens are barred from traveling to Cuba. As a journalist, I began visiting Cuba in 1998 and during my more than 35 visits I’ve met hundreds of Cubans who have graciously shared their lives, music, food, culture and created my passion to tell their stories. In writing these stories, I’ve tried to counteract some of the false impressions