Awakin.org

Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Awakin Calls » Meredith May

Meredith May: Journalist, Author, Beekeeper
Call with Meredith May

Call is Live! Listen Now »

Meredith May is a storyteller, award-winning journalist, author, and third-generation beekeeper. For much of her career, Meredith was (until 2015) a feature writer at The San Francisco Chronicle.  Her 2004 newspaper series “Operation Lion Heart,” about a war-wounded Iraqi boy, inspired the U.S. government to grant political asylum to the child and his family, and won the PEN USA Literary Award for Journalism and the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for photography.  Her 2006 investigative series on sex trafficking, “Diary of a Sex Slave,” broke journalistic ground by telling the story of a Korean woman who was trafficked to San Francisco and forced to work in a massage parlor; the series earned first place feature writing awards from the Society of See full.
Meredith May is a storyteller, award-winning journalist, author, and third-generation beekeeper.

For much of her career, Meredith was (until 2015) a feature writer at The San Francisco Chronicle.  Her 2004 newspaper series “Operation Lion Heart,” about a war-wounded Iraqi boy, inspired the U.S. government to grant political asylum to the child and his family, and won the PEN USA Literary Award for Journalism and the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for photography.  Her 2006 investigative series on sex trafficking, “Diary of a Sex Slave,” broke journalistic ground by telling the story of a Korean woman who was trafficked to San Francisco and forced to work in a massage parlor; the series earned first place feature writing awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Associated Press, and was turned into a graphic novel by Stanford University.  Her discovery of a San Francisco Bay Area school superintendent’s private use of a district credit card led to his fraud conviction and a subsequent state takeover of his school system.  Her exposé of a chain of Fresno-based charter schools that took taxpayer dollars and taught religion led to the closing of all 14 schools and a new California law that bans such schools.  

May’s writing is included in the book, Best Newspaper Writing 2005, published by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Her gift of story-telling found expression this year in I, Who Did Not Die (2017), a book she wrote which tells the true story of two men—one from Iraq, the other from Iran—who were destined to be mortal enemies, but instead found in each other mercy, kindness, and hope.  One of the men, Zahed, then a 13-year-old Iranian child soldier, was among the first Iranian troops in Khorramshahr after Saddam’s invasion of Iran.  He was ordered to clear the bunkers and execute any surviving Iraqis.  He prayed he would not find anyone alive, but, in the third bunker, he heard a sound.  In the beam of his flashlight he saw six dead Iraqis and among them was a 29-year-old Iraqi conscript, Najah.  Zahed, the Iranian boy, could not kill Najah, and instead secretly nursed the enemy Iraqi fighter back to life during the brutal Iran-Iraq War.  Twenty years later, after suffering terrible loss and imprisonment, the men met by chance again on the other side of the world, finding themselves sitting next to each other and sharing stories of their past in the waiting room of a Canadian help center for torture survivors.

The two men are listed as co-authors, along with Meredith, of the book.  Meredith says that writing this story of survival, resilience, humanity, and friendship has made her much more spiritual, as the chances of these two men ever meeting again were infinitesimal.  

This touch of spirituality is something Meredith also experiences while she keeps bees.  A third-generation beekeeper from Carmel Valley, Meredith tends beehives in her backyard as well as at the Connecticut Friendship Garden, a community garden in San Francisco.   While she was an active journalist at The Chronicle, she used to care for two beehives on the roof of The ChronicleShe said in 2004:  “over there [pointing towards the newsroom] is all about a job, a job I love—telling stories is very important—but it’s also about making money. And working with the bees is about being alive, which is a much grander thing, I think.  So this is about my purpose. This is why I’m here. This is my connection with my grandfather. And yes, people are very surprised that we have this agricultural phenomenon right here at Fifth and Mission with bus stops and parking garages and coffee shops. It’s just odd. In almost a protest in a way against… I guess I’m a country girl living in the city.”

Meredith currently writes books, keeps bees, and teaches podcasting at Mills College in Oakland, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in government in 1991. She has been a competitive rower for 22 years, and is a member of the nationally ranked Marin Rowing Association. She also likes to swim and paddle a Hawaiian outrigger canoe in the San Francisco Bay with the Dolphin Club, one of San Francisco’s oldest sports clubs.

Meredith mentors at-risk children, and speaks French, Spanish and American Sign Language.  She is a co-founder of bigTINY, a pop-up artist salon held in a former Italian basement boxing club that spotlights emerging Bay Area writers, musicians, photographers, pranksters and other offbeat creatives.  

Join us in conversation with this vibrant and beautiful storyteller!


Five Questions for Meredith

What Makes You Come Alive?
I enjoy writing true stories about brave people. I believe stories are what save us from prejudice, misunderstanding and fear. I, Who Did Not Die is about an Iranian child soldier who committed an astonishing act of mercy and chose to secretly save an enemy Iraqi soldier during the Iran-Iraq War in 1982. My book humanizes people from Muslim countries at a time when our president is demonizing them.

Your Greatest Inspiration?
I was raised by my beekeeper grandfather, and when he died and I inherited his last remaining hive, I felt my first feeling of legacy. I understood that I was raised not only by his Native American, nature-first perspective, but also by the bees themselves that showed me as a child how healthy families function.

An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
A woman I barely knew on my rowing team invited me to live rent-free in an empty flat in her building at a time when I was going through a sudden, dramatic break-up and didn't have a place to live.

One Thing On Your Bucket List?
Drive across country in an RV - teaching people across the country how to start their first beehives.

One-line Message for the World?
Love always wins in the end.


Related Awakin Call Speakers
Marc Ian Barasch
Makala Kozo Hattori
Liz Mitten Ryan