Off Assignment

Off Assignment A literary space for the candid tales *behind* official stories. We have a hunch: that the best travel stories haven't been told. That the most compelling world journeys don't make it into print.
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That the way a writer digresses from a plan or pitch is precisely what warrants telling. Off Assignment is a platform for original writing about rare places. We’re not here to guide vacations. We don’t cover spas or centennials. We care about voice and place and story. We want the writer back on the page—sweating, tripping, and telling a fuller tale. We aim to get rid of the gloss, to shrink the gap between traveler and reader, and to make space for travel writing with stakes, surprise, and the power to endure. We are a 501(c)(3) and all donations are tax deductible to the full extent of the law. Please consider making a donation today by clicking the link below! https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=TDKY5CVAWAXTL

When Ali Francis broke her board clean in two during a surfing lesson in Bali, it reminded her of something: the way she...
10/07/2020
TO THE ESTRANGED BODY IN BALI — OFF ASSIGNMENT

When Ali Francis broke her board clean in two during a surfing lesson in Bali, it reminded her of something: the way she saw her own relationship with her body. Separate from her, an alien entity she had felt betrayed by and had betrayed in return. In this week's "Letter to a Stranger," she speaks directly to her body, and finds a way to come back to herself.

“Bali offers firm ground after years of free fall. Somewhere between Denpasar and Bingin, the road takes a hard left. Thick steam rises off the asphalt like fog, obscuring the legs of a mob of rust-colored chickens. The car stops abruptly at a makeshift boom gate fashioned from rotting wood, and t...

In this week's "Letter to a Stranger," Amber Meadow Adams writes to a grandmother she’s never met, a survivor of the inf...
09/23/2020
TO MY GRANDMOTHER, C/O THE MUSH HOLE — OFF ASSIGNMENT

In this week's "Letter to a Stranger," Amber Meadow Adams writes to a grandmother she’s never met, a survivor of the infamous Mohawk Institute, the first of many residential schools in North America. Amber takes us with her as she walks the dusty halls of the now-abandoned building, where she retraces the steps of her tota as a young girl, and confronts the horrors that occurred there.

“A nation perched on the hinge between British invasion and the old downbeat of Haudenosaunee diplomacy, we’d been spinning it for centuries: translators, talkers, bridgers, and builders. The school, at first, was just another stone to whet our edge.”

"In fact, my eldest uncle Ahmadzia Maamaa—may Allah have mercy on his soul—very explicitly warned me not to tell anyone ...
09/09/2020
TO THE LOGARI WHO ASKED ABOUT THE SUN — OFF ASSIGNMENT

"In fact, my eldest uncle Ahmadzia Maamaa—may Allah have mercy on his soul—very explicitly warned me not to tell anyone my father’s name or that I had come from America."

In this week's "Letter to a Stranger," Jamil Jan Kochai takes us to a valley in Afghanistan basking in the light of dusk, where a stranger asked him a question he couldn't help but answer honestly -- and which prompted an exchange that's haunted him since. Read this stunning essay on homesickness, language, and subverted expectations through the link below.

“You see, since the moment I arrived in Logar that summer of 2012, when I was 19, my uncles had been telling me to be wary of locals. No one could know I was back home because word spread so quickly in our little village. In fact, my eldest uncle Ahmadzia Maamaa—may Allah have mercy on his soul....

When coronavirus swept in earlier this year, shuttering people inside, we started collecting pieces for "Postcard to a S...
08/26/2020
POSTCARD TO A STRANGER — OFF ASSIGNMENT

When coronavirus swept in earlier this year, shuttering people inside, we started collecting pieces for "Postcard to a Stranger," a project to bridge connections between those distanced by the pandemic.

Today, we end this series, but fear not--we will be continuing #postcardtoastranger but in a new form, transitioning from a temporary pandemic project to bite-size "Letter to a Stranger" pieces that will be a mainstay at Off Assignment.

For now, we invite you to look back at the dream-like months this series harkens back to—and hope the postcards’ collective power will bolster you for whatever comes next.

When coronavirus swept in during the spring of 2020, shuttering people inside—in shared big-city apartments, parental homes in suburbia, temporary rentals on foreign continents—we envisioned a fresh iteration of our flagship column, “ Letter to a Stranger ,” aimed at bridging connections bet...

"This loneliness, it must have always been there." A #postcardtoastranger by Francesca Giacco. Illustration by Owen Murr...
08/24/2020

"This loneliness, it must have always been there."

A #postcardtoastranger by Francesca Giacco.
Illustration by Owen Murray.

Read more postcards here: bit.ly/30gAHPo

"You couldn't have known what I had just come to know." A haunting #postcardtoastranger by Brian Benson.Illustration by ...
08/20/2020

"You couldn't have known what I had just come to know." A haunting #postcardtoastranger by Brian Benson.
Illustration by Sarah Muren.

More postcards here: bit.ly/30gAHPo

"You wore a mask taken from trash." Vidhi Taparia #postcardtoastranger illuminates the depth of the pain caused by the p...
08/18/2020

"You wore a mask taken from trash." Vidhi Taparia #postcardtoastranger illuminates the depth of the pain caused by the pandemic. Illustration by Owen Murray.

More postcards here: https://bit.ly/30gAHPo

A summer of memories in a #postcardtoastranger by Kristina Cuello.Illustration by Owen Murray.Read more postcards: https...
08/14/2020

A summer of memories in a #postcardtoastranger by Kristina Cuello.

Illustration by Owen Murray.

Read more postcards: https://bit.ly/30gAHPo

Have you ever run away from home? When John Kaufmann, author of this week's "Letter to a Stranger," did it in the early ...
08/12/2020
TO THE KEEPER OF A SALVATION ARMY MISSION — OFF ASSIGNMENT

Have you ever run away from home?

When John Kaufmann, author of this week's "Letter to a Stranger," did it in the early 80s, he encountered plenty of memorable strangers on his journeys across the American South.

But one in particular stood out to him: the keeper of a Salvation Army mission in Texas, generous yet firm.

“If you had a Southern accent, I did not hear it. You spoke little, in a voice deep and clear, using carefully chosen words. You were tough, taciturn, and fair. You are, indubitably, dead by now.”

A #postcardtoastranger from a COVID test, by Marcia DeSanctis. Illustration by Pauline Patterson. More postcards here: b...
08/11/2020

A #postcardtoastranger from a COVID test, by Marcia DeSanctis.

Illustration by Pauline Patterson.

More postcards here: bit.ly/30gAHPo

“It’s for us. Shush. We are lucky to have him.” A #postcardtoastranger from Lisa Alvarez. Illustrated by Amélie Rey Lesc...
08/08/2020

“It’s for us. Shush. We are lucky to have him.”

A #postcardtoastranger from Lisa Alvarez. Illustrated by Amélie Rey Lescure

More postcards here: https://bit.ly/30gAHPo

Last week's "Letter to a Stranger," by poet Jasmine Ledesma, is a masterclass in how words can convey a state of mind. T...
08/04/2020
On fire in the New York summer

Last week's "Letter to a Stranger," by poet Jasmine Ledesma, is a masterclass in how words can convey a state of mind. The electricity of her descriptions of a manic episode crackles and lingers long after the last line. In our interview with her, we talked about representations of bipolar disorder, poetry and honesty, and all the magic in her life.

“Most adults with bipolar disorder have eight manic episodes in their lifetime,” Jasmine Ledesma tells us in this week’s “Letter to a Stranger.” “But I was twenty-one and this was my eighth.”  Jasmine writes of one hot New York afternoon, when she lunged into conversation with a copp...

A musical and beautiful #postcardtoastranger by Tami Fairweather. Illustration by Dustin Dunaway. Read more postcards he...
08/04/2020

A musical and beautiful #postcardtoastranger by
Tami Fairweather. Illustration by Dustin Dunaway.

Read more postcards here: https://bit.ly/30gAHPo

Love in the time of coronavirus. A romantic #postcardtoastranger by Ginny Fahs. Illustrated by Nikita Sveshnikov.More po...
07/31/2020

Love in the time of coronavirus. A romantic #postcardtoastranger by Ginny Fahs. Illustrated by Nikita Sveshnikov.

More postcards here: https://bit.ly/30gAHPo

A shared cigarette on a street corner is the quintessential “stranger” encounter, yet the way Jasmine Ledesma navigates ...
07/29/2020
TO THE SMOKER ON 72ND STREET — OFF ASSIGNMENT

A shared cigarette on a street corner is the quintessential “stranger” encounter, yet the way Jasmine Ledesma navigates the aisles of an Upper West Side deli, the internal processes of her brain, and the shifts in her identity is sure to surprise you. She deftly subverts expectations as her essay travels through her experience with bipolar disorder—and weaves poetry out of just a few drags. Click here to read how Jasmine fuses language, psyche, and space into a single powerful current.

“I stepped out of the deli on 72nd street after winking at the cashier and stuffing my one-dollar water bottle into the gaping throat of my backpack, all my neurons glittering at once, my bleached-blonde hair billowing behind me like a flag…You held a cigarette between your fingers, the cherry a...

A #postcardtoastranger from the early days of lockdown by Sarah Perry. Illustration by Amélie Rey Lescure. Read more pos...
07/27/2020

A #postcardtoastranger from the early days of lockdown by Sarah Perry. Illustration by Amélie Rey Lescure.

Read more postcards here: https://bit.ly/30gAHPo

"How did you get in?"A #postcardtoastranger by Lauren Hilgers asks the small-time virus that broke into her quarantine. ...
07/22/2020

"How did you get in?"

A #postcardtoastranger by Lauren Hilgers asks the small-time virus that broke into her quarantine. Illustration by Sonja Bajic.

More postcards here: https://bit.ly/30gAHPo

"Your parakeets were missing. A cat slept in a basket labeled 'oranges.'" A beautiful #postcardtoastranger by Madeleine ...
07/17/2020

"Your parakeets were missing. A cat slept in a basket labeled 'oranges.'"

A beautiful #postcardtoastranger by Madeleine Barnes. Illustration by Megan Vossler.

Read more here: https://bit.ly/30gAHPo

In this week’s “Letter to a Stranger,” writer Jason Christian looks back on his days as an anarchist squatter in Barcelo...
07/15/2020
TO THE TRAVELER WHO SAVED ME FROM DROWNING — OFF ASSIGNMENT

In this week’s “Letter to a Stranger,” writer Jason Christian looks back on his days as an anarchist squatter in Barcelona and brings us to the beaches of Tarragona, to a picnic of manchego and olive paste, and to a treacherous swim while drunk on invincibility.

“The word for undertow in Castilian Spanish,” Christian writes, “is the same word used for hangovers: resaca.” Read on to find out how he emerged from the resaca on the day that changed his life.

http://www.offassignment.com/articles/jason-christian

“I was twenty-seven and you were younger, perhaps twenty-two. You’d come with a friend from San Francisco to explore Europe’s underground. This was in 2005, before Instagram tourism, before Airbnb. Like so many others, you’d heard of our existence from self-published zines and word of mouth....

"Like the god Pan, you weave among us..." A #postcardtoastranger from Kyle McCarthy. Illustration by Nikita Sveshnikov. ...
07/14/2020

"Like the god Pan, you weave among us..."

A #postcardtoastranger from Kyle McCarthy. Illustration by Nikita Sveshnikov.

Read more here: https://bit.ly/3e5UqGo

"Did you know I walked more than 20 miles?" The latest #postcardtoastranger from Diana Hubbell.Read more here: https://b...
07/10/2020

"Did you know I walked more than 20 miles?"

The latest #postcardtoastranger from Diana Hubbell.

Read more here: https://bit.ly/3e5UqGo

"I could feel the tension through the wall as clearly as I heard laughter just moments before." A #postcardtoastranger b...
07/08/2020

"I could feel the tension through the wall as clearly as I heard laughter just moments before."

A #postcardtoastranger by Iona Brannon. Illustration by Amélie Rey Lescure.

Read more here: https://bit.ly/3e5UqGo

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: “LETTER TO A STRANGER”Our “Letter to a Stranger” column was born out of a writing prompt: write a ...
07/07/2020
SUBMIT — OFF ASSIGNMENT

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: “LETTER TO A STRANGER”

Our “Letter to a Stranger” column was born out of a writing prompt: write a letter to a stranger--that passerby who haunts you still.

The idea caught like wildfire; writers responded. For Pico Iyer, that stranger was a woman who wandered the ash-gray streets of Reykjavik with him. For Leslie Jamison, he was a one-legged traveling magician in Nicaragua. For Lauren Groff, an elderly man in Palermo who bought her a Negroni and invited her home. The cache of strangers grew: a pharmacist in Beijing, a sailor on a Greyhound bus, a stray dog in Varanasi, a doctor at a quarantine hotel in Bujumbura. Our “Letter to a Stranger” archive, now five years old, spans over 80 countries and features award-winning missives; a collection of “best of” essays will be published in an anthology by Algonquin books in fall 2021. Currently, we’re seeking new essays for our online column and invite you to submit.

Read past “Letter to a Stranger” essays on our website and find our submission guidelines below. We pay $100 per piece.

http://www.offassignment.com/write-for-us

We want your "behind the scenes" stories, offbeat stories, stories you tell your friends at the bar after work.

"I want to touch your arm, but." A heart-wrenching Postcard to a Stranger from Katie Machen. See more here: https://bit....
07/03/2020

"I want to touch your arm, but."

A heart-wrenching Postcard to a Stranger from Katie Machen.

See more here: https://bit.ly/2NdPtAl

"Every afternoon, I slipped on my cocktail dress and boarded a train to Ginza. From 6pm to 3am nightly, I was both obser...
07/01/2020
TO THE EYE DOCTOR IN OSAKA — OFF ASSIGNMENT

"Every afternoon, I slipped on my cocktail dress and boarded a train to Ginza. From 6pm to 3am nightly, I was both observer and spectacle, subject and object, consumer and consumed."

Some years ago, journalist Samantha Culp spent a breathless summer in Japan, riding subways with uniformed schoolchildren by day and lighting cigarettes at an upscale hostess club by night.

In this Letter to a Stranger, she looks unflinchingly at all that was on display, including herself, and tells of eyeballs so worn out, it took a stranger's act of kindness for them to regain their sight.

“I was also being looked at. By night I was working at a Tokyo hostess club, serving drinks and lighting cigarettes and giggling at the semi-understood jokes of businessmen who were paying for the novelty of a foreign woman doing so. At age 23, I had come as an experiment in immersion journalism, ...

"Thank you: for keeping my corner alive, right now, but also over the decades..." - "To the Elder-Dyke Who Presides Over...
06/29/2020

"Thank you: for keeping my corner alive, right now, but also over the decades..."

- "To the Elder-Dyke Who Presides Over the Lesbian Coffee Shop" by Sophie Mendelson. Illustration by Sonja Bajic.

More from "Postcard to a Stranger" here: https://bit.ly/2NdPtAl

"You're no stranger to death." A Postcard to a Stranger from Alexander Lumans. Illustration by Owen Murray. Read more he...
06/24/2020

"You're no stranger to death."

A Postcard to a Stranger from Alexander Lumans. Illustration by Owen Murray.

Read more here: https://bit.ly/2NdPtAl

"I leave home now with two kinds of fear. One, of the virus. Two, of those harboring something else just as deadly." A P...
06/20/2020

"I leave home now with two kinds of fear. One, of the virus. Two, of those harboring something else just as deadly."

A Postcard to a Stranger from Nick Kowalczyk.

More postcards here: https://bit.ly/2NdPtAl

"At the end of the day, journalism is a fundamentally conservative business: The hardest stories to publish are the ones...
06/17/2020
Letter from a quarantine hotel

"At the end of the day, journalism is a fundamentally conservative business: The hardest stories to publish are the ones an editor has never heard before, and most of what editors hear about Africa are derivative versions of a script that outsiders have been recycling for nearly two centuries. And whatever one might say about objectivity, journalism is necessarily subjective: full of active decisions about what’s important enough to write and even more decisions, many of them unconscious or unexamined, about what can be left out."

Read our interview with journalist Jina Moore, author of this week's "Letter to a Stranger," for a deep dive into the roles international journalism and "outsider-writers" play in entrenching stereotypes, and her reflections on the way forward. Also not to be missed: Jina's treasure trove of recommendations on authors and artists from East Africa and beyond!
https://mailchi.mp/offassignment/quarantine-hotel

Systemic racism is a global pandemic much older than coronavirus: the routes of exploitation don’t look too different from modern flight paths, a legacy still searing trails on the world map.  When Jina Moore—former East Africa bureau chief for the New York Times, and this week's "Letter to a S...

"I step forward slightly, toeing the seam between the dirty beige carpet of my room and the dirty red carpet of the hall...
06/17/2020
TO THE DOCTOR OF BUJUMBURA'S QUARANTINE HOTEL — OFF ASSIGNMENT

"I step forward slightly, toeing the seam between the dirty beige carpet of my room and the dirty red carpet of the hallway, the great outdoors. I bow my head. You raise your gun to my forehead and pull the trigger. Its laser reads my body temperature but not my fear."

When former New York Times East Africa bureau chief Jina Moore flew home to Burundi in March, she learned upon landing that a two-week government quarantine had gone into effect while she was mid-air. She spent the next fourteen days at a hotel where the doctor spoke Kirundi, the thermometer spoke French, the handyman spoke German, and the other guests spoke little, out of weariness.

In this week's "Letter to a Stranger," Jina beckons us into the strange reality of those tense spring days in Bujumbura. Read her beautiful and thought-provoking essay here:

http://www.offassignment.com/articles/jina-moore

I step forward slightly, toeing the seam between the dirty beige carpet of my room and the dirty red carpet of the hallway, the great outdoors. I bow my head. You raise your gun to my forehead and pull the trigger. Its laser reads my body temperature but not my fear.

We are pausing our publication schedule to take a stand and speak out against systemic anti-blackness and police brutali...
06/03/2020
Hearing Black voices

We are pausing our publication schedule to take a stand and speak out against systemic anti-blackness and police brutality in the US. Our newsletter this week shares resources and action points to support the movement. Read it through the link below.

Black Americans are saying: "I can't breathe." Police are terrorizing protesters; the country is aflame. We are pausing our publication schedule to take a stand against police brutality and systemic anti-blackness in the United States.  Language, metaphor, literature—these are key elements of a...

"'Closer.' My face inched towards yours. Your eyes were huge." Nurit Chinn's Postcard to a Stranger. See more at https:/...
06/01/2020

"'Closer.' My face inched towards yours. Your eyes were huge." Nurit Chinn's Postcard to a Stranger. See more at https://bit.ly/2LJW9p0

"I, too, am a lover of the light." Sara Lieberman writes her #postcardtoastranger to a neighbor in Paris. Read more post...
05/30/2020

"I, too, am a lover of the light." Sara Lieberman writes her #postcardtoastranger to a neighbor in Paris.

Read more postcards here: https://bit.ly/2LJW9p0

"Your corner rings with your absence," writes Rachel Swearingen in the latest Postcard to a Stranger. Read more here: ht...
05/27/2020

"Your corner rings with your absence," writes Rachel Swearingen in the latest Postcard to a Stranger.

Read more here: https://bit.ly/2LJW9p0

"I promise there's a bigger world than this." Robin Romm's latest Postcard to a Stranger. Read the rest at https://bit.l...
05/25/2020

"I promise there's a bigger world than this."

Robin Romm's latest Postcard to a Stranger. Read the rest at https://bit.ly/2LJW9p0

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Three years ago, we asked our favorite writers a question: What's your best untold story?

Anyone who has ever shared a drink with a journalist knows the truth: the most surprising, funny and life-changing part of the trip rarely makes it into the narrow confines of an article. As New York Times editor Damien Cave put it: “When you turn in a story, you feel like you’re only squeezing a third of the lemon.” Off Assignment wants to give you those last two-thirds.

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Hi Friends, I've been working for this nonprofit for about a year now, and I can say that, as a writer and journalist, it's one of the closest things to my heart. It's such a dangerous time to be a journalist, and we, as a society, need to be reminded that people who report on an issue have their own emotional and philosophical battles to face on the way to "truth." We need to protect the HUMANITY of journalists, writers, photographers, and other correspondents who put their happiness and lives on the line to bring you the stories you read every day. They are not dispensable, nor are they invincible. Please, take a moment to donate to Off Assignment, and to suggest journalists, writers, and photographers who YOU want to see in our upcoming roster. Every dollar you spend on Giving Tuesday will be matched by Facebook; more importantly, every dollar will go directly to the cause. We are a registered nonprofit in the State of New York, and all of our written and audio pieces are available, for free and in perpetuity, on offassignment.com.
Thrilled to include Off Assignment in today's roundup of impactful travel magazines that inspire our wanderlust! Keep up the beautiful work, XO 💛 http://www.thegoodtrade.com/features/conscious-travel-magazines-inspiring-cultural-appreciation
🎶You are so beautiful to meeee🎶