5 Questions with Reece Jones, Author of Violent Borders

This Wednesday, April 12th, we welcome Reece Jones to City Lights Bookstore! He’ll be discussing his new book Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move with friend of City Lights Ingrid Rojas Contreras. The book is published by Verso. Reece took the time to answer our 5 questions. More about him, and his answers below.

The Event: Wednesday, April 12th at 7:00PM. 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133.

About Violent Borders: In Violent Borders, Jones crosses the migrant trails of the world, documenting the billions of dollars spent on border security projects and their dire consequences for countless millions. While the poor are restricted by the lottery of birth to slum dwellings in the aftershocks of decolonization, the wealthy travel without constraint, exploiting pools of cheap labor and lax environmental regulations. With the growth of borders and resource enclosures, the deaths of migrants in search of a better life are intimately connected to climate change, environmental degradation, and the growth of global wealth inequality.

About Reece Jones: Reece Jones is a Professor of Geography at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, and the author of Border Walls: Security and the War on Terror in the United States, India, and Israel.

About Ingrid Rojas Contreras: Ingrid Rojas Contreras is the 2014 recipient of the Mary Tanenbaum Literary Award in Nonfiction from the San Francisco Foundation. She has received awards and support from Bread Loaf, Hedgebrook, the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto, Djerassi Artist Residency, National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, and the San Francisco Arts Commission. Currently, she is working on a memoir about her grandfather, a medicine man from Colombia who it was said could move clouds.


City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit? If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Reece Jones: I have been to City Lights once, probably 20 years ago. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to talk about borders and free movement in such a great location.

CL: What’s the first book you read & what are you reading right now?

RJ: If I can change the question slightly to, “What was the first book that had a huge impact on your thinking,” the answer is We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch. The book details the horrors of the genocide in Rwanda in the spring of 1994. The book was a kick in the gut for me because the Rwanda genocide happened to correspond with my 18th birthday and graduation from high school, but I don’t recall hearing anything about it at the time. For me, the spring of 1994 was a time of carefree happiness and excitement about the future. So what struck me when I read the book a few years later was that something so horrible could be happening and I could be blissfully unaware of it. It planted the seed in my mind to try to search out other instances of under-reported violence or inequality and shed light on them.

I usually read serious non-fiction, but at the moment I am reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. It is a powerful book that has resonances for me with the current struggle for freedom of movement that produces similar clandestine migrations to avoid oppression and violence.

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

RJ: I teach a graduate seminar on borders and politics every other year. Three books have appeared on almost every syllabus:

James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (2009);
Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of the Nation, (1994);
Lauren Benton, A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires 1400-1900 (2010)

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

RJ: Some people listen to classical music while they write, but that never worked for me. Instead, I prefer political punk. The album I listened to the most while writing Violent Borders was To Live in Discontent by Strike Anywhere. Their song “Notes on Pulling the Sky Down” was particularly influential. It ends with the lines “so I wait for a change to come, and I ask myself why does everyday the sky remain over our heads? Would it be impossible to tear it down?” The song is more about capitalism, but the same thing can be said about violent borders.

CL: If you opened a bookstore tomorrow, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

RJ: Revolution Books, my local independent bookstore in Honolulu, recently closed so I would reopen a similar store near the university campus. I would feature books like Harsha Walia’s Undoing Border Imperialism (2013) and Natasha King’s No Borders: The Politics of Immigration Control and Resistance (2016) that make the case for a world without movement restrictions at borders.


Join us on Wednesday, April 11th for a conversation about borders with Reece Jones and Ingrid Rojas Contreras. Get Reece’s book direct from our friends at Verso, from City Lights, or ask for it at your local independent bookseller. More about Reece here.

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