By Morgan Rielly and Reza Jalali, photography by Lilit Danielyan
$19.95, softcover, nonfiction
Maine is home to many people with many different stories—stories of travel and hardship, love and success. Several of these stories can be found in the pages of Dear Maine, a new book from Islandport Press, written by Morgan Rielly and Reza Jalali. Reilly and Jalali spent several years interviewing Maine residents who immigrated to America from their home countries. Dear Maine amplifies the voices and stories of twenty different Mainers, many of whom are also successful, loving, and interesting Maine women. In addition to these stories, the book features black and white portraits taken by Lilit Danielyan, a young Armenian photographer and documentarian who splits her time between Armenia and the U.S. and grew up in Central Kazakhstan.
The first profile introduces the reader to Safiya Khalid, who also graces the cover of the book. “I did not experience the college life most young Americans have,” said Khalid in her interview with the authors, “I was rushing from work to classes and doing homework in between.” Khalid, like many of the people whose stories are told in Dear Maine, underwent a harrowing journey before arriving in the United States. After being displaced by conflict in Somalia, she experiences life-threatening conditions in a Kenyan refugee camp. Now, having graduated from the University of Southern Maine in 2018 with a degree in psychology, after an arduous process of school and work, Khalid is the first Somali American and the first Muslim to win an election to the Lewiston city council—an achievement for which she garnered national media attention.
“Danielyan’s portraits are not only beautiful images of people, but works of art in their own right,” said Dean Lunt, editor-in-chief of Islandport Press. “As is the case with great photojournalism and documentary photography, her photos and her style help capture the essence of her subjects and serve to greatly enhance Morgan and Reza’s text.”
While everyone in the book has a unique story, none of them are boring, or any less exciting to read about than the others. Whether you read about Chanbopha Himm, the co-founder of the Cambodian Community Association of Maine and Unified Asian Communities; Natália Dyer, a woman from Brazil who runs the successful, Portland-based catering company Sampa Kitchen; or any of the other fascinating women that are profiled in Dear Maine, you will be learning about someone who has a lot to say that is worth hearing.
Dear Maine provides insight into many global and local concerns with a rare, individualized lens. Danielyan’s photographic portraits operate perfectly in concert with the sometimes solemn but always optimistic tilt of each profile essay, capturing the subjects in posed moments that still manage to look comfortable and serene. The essays themselves take their time to introduce the reader to the subject, often providing details and anecdotes that would be difficult to find in any other profile of an interesting person. Dear Maine is a must-read, and an especially great book to give as a gift for the holidays.
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