As a first-grader at Sam Houston Elementary, Brooke Jarvis already knew she wanted to be an author, but she said, “I didn’t know what that would be.”
Later she served as an editor of Maryville High School’s student newspaper before attending the University of Richmond, where she discovered that fiction writing wasn’t her strength.
However, during college she came across a compilation of magazine articles and found her niche. Now 32 and living in Seattle, her writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Rolling Stone.
On June 6, Jarvis received a Livingston Award for Young Journalists, one of three $10,000 prizes given each year to journalists younger than 35, working in print, broadcast and online media.
Jarvis was a finalist last year in the international reporting category for an article about leaders of a small South American village dealing with oil development who send their children away to be educated.
She won the national reporting award this year for her article, “Unclaimed,” which appeared in the Dec. 1, 2016 issue of The California Sunday Magazine.
Becoming a freelancer
Jarvis originally moved to Seattle to accept a job as a web editor with the magazine Yes! She saved her money and after three years quit to give herself one year to make it as a freelance writer.
With long-form journalism, she is able to delve deeply into topics, learn from experts, meet people who trust her with their stories and play with the words and sentences to tell those stories well.
In 2013, Jarvis received a $10,000 Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, given to early career journalists to spend a year reporting and writing. Her article on deep-sea mining in New Guinea, “The Deepest Dig,” also was published in The California Sunday Magazine.
New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute gave her its 2016 Reporting Award to report on membership disputes within Native American tribes.
Jarvis also has written about a leprosy settlement in Hawaii and a deadly landslide in Washington state.
The idea for the article that won the Livingston Award this year came as she was searching local news articles for the germs of stories or ideas. “I’m always looking for stories with narrative potential,” Jarvis said.
“If you have some curiosity and you poke around, there’s always something below the surface,” she said of her pursuit of story ideas.
Within an article about the cost to the state of California for patients on life support, she read a small mention of an unidentified young man who was injured in a crash in the California desert and had been in what doctors call a “persistent vegetative state” for about 16 years, with no one knowing his identity.
“I wanted to know more,” Jarvis said, and in the process of her reporting she came across organizations with tens of thousands of members who are trying to either track down people who lost contact with families after they left to immigrate to America, or to identify bodies that have been discovered.
Her reporting led to her to people in San Diego and Houston, to conversations with the U.S. Border Patrol and the Mexican consulate, and to conversations with family members who cried as they told of their searches for lost loved ones.
“They’re so glad that someone is listening to their story,” Jarvis said, and she is careful to not to raise false hopes.
“All I can offer is an ear and the ability to share their story,” she said.
The young man through which Jarvis told the story of “Unclaimed” was found by his family while she was working on the article for more than a year, but Jarvis hopes the article serves a broader purpose of leading people to think about immigration in an empathetic way.