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STLCC-Meramec Graduate Co-authors Book on Middle East Conflict

July 14, 2011

Greg Myre  
Greg Myre

Journalist Greg Myre has spent the greater part of the last 20 years covering international conflicts and wars all over the world. 

Myre, the editor of NPR’s “Morning Edition” program and co-author of the book, titled “This Burning Land: Lessons from the Front Lines of the Transformed Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” credits an instructor he had in the late 1970s at St. Louis Community College-Meramec with influencing his career path.

“Rich Michalski, who taught non-fiction writing, was an outstanding teacher,” Myre said. “I greatly enjoyed his class and it helped me decide that I really wanted to become a journalist.”

Myre, who earned an associate degree in 1980 and then transferred to Yale University, said he also enjoyed playing basketball at Meramec for Hall-of-Fame coach Randy Albrecht.

“I had very good grades in high school, but I was most interested in playing basketball. I had clearly overestimated my abilities, and my talents were still not in great demand,” Myre said. “I was lightly recruited out of high school, but thought my best option would be to go to Meramec and reassess after a year or two. I had a great time playing at Meramec. Our record was just average -- we won about as many as we lost both seasons -- but I really enjoyed the team and the travel.”

Myre applied to a number of Ivy League schools and chose Yale, where he played both basketball and football. After graduating from Yale, Myre landed a job with the Associated Press in Washington, D.C. He went to Miami and New York with AP, and in 1987, was sent to Johannesburg, South Africa.

“It was a dream assignment for a young reporter,” said Myre, who spent six years there covering the final years of apartheid. “I was in Cape Town the day Nelson Mandela walked out of prison in 1990.”

Wedding Bells and Bombs

And there he also met his wife and future co-author, Jennifer Griffin. They continued on with AP, moving to Islamabad, Pakistan, in 1993. Myre spent a lot of time roaming around Asia, and made many trips to Afghanistan to cover the war there.

“Few people cared about it at the time,” he said. “I was one of the first reporters to write extensively about the Taliban, but it was very hard to get editors interested at the time.”

The couple moved to the Middle East in 1995, where they were based in Nicosia, Cyprus, and reported widely from most of the countries in the Arab world. A year later Myre went to Moscow, and was there from 1996 to 1999, covering the final years of the Yeltsin presidency and the rise of Vladimir Putin.

After more than a decade of covering wars all over Africa, Asia and the Middle East, it seemed like they   actually were in a place moving toward peace when they moved to Jerusalem in 1999. Griffin was a correspondent for Fox News while Myre remained with AP, and later joined the New York Times staff while there.

“Negotiations were taking place, and it seemed like the Israelis and the Palestinians were in the process of ending their half-century of conflict,” Myre said. “But it all blew up in 2000 and we spent the next seven years covering the turmoil there and elsewhere in the region. This was the basis for our book, ‘This Burning Land.’"

Myre said this conflict was particularly intense and lasted for many years, often taking place just outside their front door.

“There were at least a dozen suicide bombings that were close enough for us to hear from our home or office,” he said. “Some were just a block or two from our home and rattled our windows. Most working days, we would be racing to places in Israel, the West Bank or the Gaza Strip to cover the fighting that never seemed to end. And the region is very small, which meant you could get to any place within a couple of hours.”

They worked around the clock, because the violence was happening around the clock.

“Our editors were in New York, which meant they were often calling us around midnight or later our time,” Myre said. “On top of that, we had two young daughters, born just 20 months apart, and neither liked to sleep through the night. It was an extremely intense period, and looking back, I'm not quite sure how we made it through those years in a constant state of sleep deprivation.” 

Author, Author

Myre admits that writing a book is a lot of hard work, and doing it with a spouse makes it both easier and harder.

“It's easier because she was there for all the events we wrote about and could add all sorts of details and additional material,” he said. “It was harder because we both had very strong feelings about these stories and it took a lot of time working out compromises about how we wanted to write about these stories.”
 
While they were writing the book, Griffin was diagnosed with breast cancer – and their son Luke was just six months old.

“When Jennifer would go for her five-hour chemotherapy sessions at Georgetown University Hospital, I would take my laptop and we would work on the book while she was receiving her IV treatments,” he said. “It was a bit unorthodox, but we found it very productive.”

Myre, who will become the foreign editor for NPR's website in August, and Griffin have done about 30 book-related appearances, including spots on Fox News, C-SPAN and NPR. The family now is based in Washington, D.C. While Myre will take on different responsibilities with NPR, Griffin continues as Fox’s national security correspondent.

“There are still times we miss being overseas, particularly when so much is happening in the Middle East right now,” Myre said. “Our three kids keep us on the move, but we’re very happy these days in Washington.”