Talking with Stephen Foehr (page 2)
Talking with Stephen Foehr
page 1, page 2, page 3
  How do you get into writing travel pieces?
  Usually I think of a place I want to go and then do research to find a story angle to get an assignment. Other times, publications contact me with ideas. The trick is to find a valid story within the destination other than just a story on the place itself. I am not interested in writing postcard articles. I focus primarily on cultural travel, that is, what gives a place its authenticity and how do the people function within that context, perhaps on the environmental level, or the arts, or daily living within the economy. For example, I spent time with the Hodi, jungle nomads in the Venezuela highlands, who have a society based on generosity. They live very lightly on the land and largely in harmony. I found lessons in their “primitive” society very apropos to our “developed” society. For my Cuban and Jamaican books, I used music as a vehicle into the society and culture.
  What would you consider your first important travel assignment?
  The first “big publication” assignment was for Islands Magazine on the San Blas islands off the coast of Panama, where the Cuna Indians live in their autonomous territory. I spent a couple weeks living with a Cuna family, meeting the shamans, traveling the islands, learning the economic reality, and the cultural legends and beliefs that underpin their culture.
What was the background on your Cuba books?
I had always wanted to go to Cuba since the 1957 Revolution. I seriously began thinking about the trip while living in Jamaica to research the reggae culture book. There were direct flights from Montego Bay and Havana and I met people who had gone. They raved about Cuba. When the Jamaican book was finished, I queried the publisher about a Cuban book, using the same approach of music/travel. Fortuitously, they were looking for a Latin music book at that very moment and a deal was quickly struck.
What about Dancing with Fidel? How long did it take to research and write?
  The total project took eight months. I spent four months reading about the colonial history, the Revolution history, current social/racial/political commentaries, background on Santeria and its African origin, music/cultural history, and talking with Cuban musicians in this country.
     I lived in Cuba from February to March 2001. I spent most of the time in Havana interviewing musicians but traveled to the western province of Pinar del Rio, to the beach resort of Varadero, to the opposite end of the island to Santiago de Cuba, over the mountains to Baracoa and the very tip of eastern Cuba, then returned up the south coast to Havana. Often I did 2 to 3 interviews a day. It was a non-stop 60-day sprint of information gathering.
     I wrote the book in eight weeks — way too fast. But the publisher pushed up the release date to coincide with Hispanic Heritage Month. Originally, I had planned to spend four months actually writing the book.
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