Sam Quinones Profile

  • Journalist Sam Quinones is the best-selling author of Dreamland, a revelatory investigation into the causes of the American Opioid Epidemic.

  • Quinones is one of the most sought speakers on breaking the stigma of opioid addiction as well as what communities can do to rebuild and prevent similar crises in the future.

  • With ten years of living as a freelance reporter in Mexico, Quinones possesses an unparalleled knowledge and understanding of immigration, drug trafficking, gang warfare, and issues surrounding the U.S./Mexican border.
  • Investigative journalist Sam Quinones is the best-selling author of Dreamland, the eye-opening chronicle of the causes underlying the American opioid crisis. Quinones’ work brought national attention to the topic, helping to breaking the silence and stigma surrounding the epidemic. Dreamland was honored as one of the best books of the year by,, the Daily Beast, Buzzfeed, the Seattle Times, the Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, Audible, as well as the Wall Street Journal and .

    Quinones has been a reporter for over 30 years. He spent 10 years living and working as a freelance writer in Mexico, where he specialized on immigration, drug trafficking, and gangs. His first two books – True Tales From Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx and Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration – gave a voice to marginalized Mexican populations and are considered cult classics.

    Quinones wrote for the LA Times for 10 years. He is currently back to freelancing and frequently contributes to National Geographic, Pacific Standard Magazine, the New York Times, and Los Angeles Magazine.

    • View Extended/Alternate Bio

      Sam Quinones is a journalist, storyteller, former LA Times reporter, and author of three acclaimed books of narrative nonfiction.

      His most recent book is Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Bloomsbury Press.

      His career as a journalist has spanned almost 30 years. He lived for 10 years as a freelance writer in Mexico, where he wrote his first two books. In 2004, he returned to the United States to work for the L.A. Times, covering immigration, drug trafficking, neighborhood stories, and gangs.

      In 2014, he resigned from the paper to return to freelancing, working for National Geographic, Pacific Standard Magazine, the New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine, and other publications.

      Columbia Journalism School selected him as a 2008 recipient of the Maria Moors Cabot prize, for a career of excellence in covering Latin America. He is also a 1998 recipient of an Alicia Patterson Fellowship, one of the most prestigious fellowships given to print journalists.

      He teaches Tell Your True Tale writing workshops, and edits a storytelling webpage of the same name.

      Quinones grew up in Claremont, California, and graduated from Claremont High School in 1977.

      He attended U.C. Berkeley, studied economics and American history, and lived in the legendary, now-defunct Barrington Hall coop. There, he also produced punk rock concerts of bands such as the Dead Kennedys, the Dils, the Zeros, the Mutants, the Offs, Black Flag and Flipper, and wrote a senior thesis on the bebop jazz revolution of the 1940s.

      He lived for a year in Europe, where he supported himself playing guitar on the streets and teaching English.

      In 1987, he found his first journalism job at the Orange County Register. In 1988, he moved to Stockton, California, where for four years at the height of the crack epidemic, he covered gangs, dope and murder as a crime reporter for the Stockton Record.

      In 1992, he moved to Seattle to write about county government and politics for the Tacoma News-Tribune.

      But he was unhappy in the rain and gray. Plus he found himself covering noxious-weed ordinances and dog-leash laws in Seattle, when in Stockton he’d been covering double homicides, Crips/Bloods, Nortenos/Surenos and the like.

      So he left for Mexico in 1994, intending to study Spanish for a few months.

      He spent his first week in Mexico in the village of Jaripo, Michoacan, which revealed to him the stories of Mexican immigration.

      Hankering to stay, he then went to Cuernavaca, where while studying Spanish, he lived with the last Trotskyites in town. Their tiny apartment had the complete works of Lenin and photos of Che and Fidel throughout, and they had to tolerate the presence of the Yankee in their midst.

      Their son was Leon Ernesto — named for Trotsky and Guevara — and he was enamored with Michael Jordan and Budweiser models.

      A couple months into his stay, Quinones found a Mexico City reporting job that paid fully five percent of what he was making in Seattle – plus no benefits — at an English-language magazine called Mexico Insight.

      After a year, Mexico Insight folded and he became a freelance writer. For the next nine years, he covered the country, as Mexico went through its historic political transformation. (He was the first foreign reporter to walk through the halls of PRI headquarters after the party lost the presidency to Vicente Fox in 2000. The mood was grim, but not that grim, as the PRI had really died years before and had been pretending to know the country ever since.)

      He traveled to the major immigrant-sending states, spending time with gang members and governors, taco vendors and Los Tigres del Norte. He wrote about soap operas; about white elephant construction projects; about Nezahualcoyotl, the massive slum suburb east of Mexico City, after it elected its first non-PRI government.

      He lived briefly in a drug-rehabilitation clinic in Zamora, while hanging out with a street gang. He lived with drag queens in Mazatlan, hung out with merchants in the Mexico City neighborhhood of Tepito, and with the relegated PRI congressmen known as the Bronx.

      On the border, he spent time with the last apostle of a splinter group of polygamous Mormons, Fernando Castro, who lived south of Ensenada, with three of his six wives, and some of his 42 children and 128 grandchildren.

      Quinones followed the promoters of Tijuana’s opera scene and visited the yeseros, makers of plaster statues of Mickey Mouse and Spiderman in that city’s Colonia Libertad.

      In 1998, he was awarded the Alicia Patterson Fellowship, one of the most prestigious fellowships in U.S. print journalism, for a series of stories on impunity in Mexico, including a story of a lynching in a small town.

      In Mexico, he wrote two collections of nonfiction stories.

      His cult classic, True Tales From Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx (Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2001) are nonfiction stories about people on the margins of contemporary Mexico – drag queens, Oaxacan Indian basketball players, valientes, gang members, and popsicle vendors.

      His second book of non-fiction stories, Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration (Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2007) tell of the lives of Tijuana opera stars, velvet painters, soccer players in southwest Kansas, narco-Mennonites, immigrants who return to run for mayor, a town southeast of L.A., and a young construction worker bent on finding a new way for himself.

      He and his family live in Southern California.

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    Sam Quinones's Speech Descriptions

    Nationally known journalist Sam Quinones has spent over a decade on the ground investigating gangs, drug trafficking, and immigration. He provides a holistic in-depth look at each topic, engaging audiences in an interactive exploration of the societal trends playing a role in these multifaceted issues, as well as how businesses and communities can come together in response to the opioid crisis. Quinones frequently speaks at universities and to audiences in law enforcement, the public health sector, and social work.

    - Craving for Comfort: Behind America's Opioid Addiction
    - Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic

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    Books by Sam Quinones:

    Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic

    In 1929, in the blue-collar city of Portsmouth, Ohio, a company built a swimming pool the size of a football field; named Dreamland, it became the vital center of the community. Now, addiction has devastated Portsmouth, as it has hundreds of small rural towns and suburbs across America–addiction like no other the country has ever faced. How that happened is the riveting story of Dreamland.

    With a great reporter’s narrative skill and the storytelling ability of a novelist, acclaimed journalist Sam Quinones weaves together two classic tales of capitalism run amok whose unintentional collision has been catastrophic. The unfettered prescribing of pain medications during the 1990s reached its peak in Purdue Pharma’s campaign to market OxyContin, its new, expensive–extremely addictive–miracle painkiller. Meanwhile, a massive influx of black tar heroin–cheap, potent, and originating from one small county on Mexico’s west coast, independent of any drug cartel–assaulted small town and mid-sized cities across the country, driven by a brilliant, almost unbeatable marketing and distribution system. Together these phenomena continue to lay waste to communities from Tennessee to Oregon, Indiana to New Mexico.

    Introducing a memorable cast of characters–pharma pioneers, young Mexican entrepreneurs, narcotics investigators, survivors, and parents–Quinones shows how these tales fit together. Dreamland is a revelatory account of the corrosive threat facing America and its heartland.

    True Tales From Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx

    A cult classic of a book from Mexico’s vital margins – stories of drag queens and Oaxacan Indian basketball players, popsicle makers and telenovela stars, migrants, farm workers, a slum boss, and a doomed tough guy.

    Sam Quinones – one of the great contemporary reporters out of Mexico, the border, and the immigrant diaspora – begins True Tales with the life and death of the godfather of the Narcocorrido, Chalino Sanchez.

    The book recounts a small-town lynching of two traveling salesmen and how a village of ranchers invented one of Mexico’s greatest business models – popsicle shops, which are now everywhere part of the country’s landscape.

    There’s the stunning story of Zeus Garcia, a bus boy in Santa Monica and the Michael Jordan of Oaxacan Indian basketball players. And Aristeo Prado, a renegade from a tiny rancho known for poverty and wanton violence.

    Along the way, Quinones lives with a colony of drag queens in the red-light district of Mazatlan as they prepare for the country’s oldest gay beauty queen contest. He spends time in Tepito, the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood and center of pirated goods in Mexico City. And with soap opera queens, he chronicles how telenovelas reflect the country’s socio-political change.

    He attends a Mother’s Day party put on by La Loba, the ruling-party’s boss of the Chimalhuacan slum outside Mexico City, attended by 17,000 women, who were entertained by a troop of Chippendale dancers.

    Those tales and others develop a momentum of amazing storytelling that is rich in surprise, weird turns and, above all, that bursts with the authentic vitality of Mexico.

    Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration

    Journalist Sam Quinones’ classic collection of nonfiction tales about Mexican immigrants, the border, and more.

    A dazzling follow-up to his cult classic, True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx.

    The stories begin with a tale that could have been plucked from The Godfather – of a man who in the 1920s heads north to buy a gun to avenge his father’s murder. Quinones continues with deftly told stories that are at once strange, magnificent, and reflect the complicated odyssey – the energy and the costs – of Mexicans into the United States, and of their return home.

    Quinones chronicles the tale of the Tomato King, of a high-school soccer season in Kansas, and of Mexican corruption in a small LA County town.

    He narrates the saga of the Henry Ford of Velvet Painting, and of how an opera scene emerged in Tijuana, and how a Zacatecan taco empire formed in Chicago.

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