By Coleen Jose
OPC member Coleen Jose writes about her friend and colleague Kim Wall, who was murdered while working on a story in Denmark. Jose shared the following personal remembrances exclusively for the OPC.
“Black seabirds circle high above the giant concrete dome that rises from a tangle of green vines just a few paces from the lapping waves of the Pacific. Half buried in the sand, the vast structure looks like a downed UFO,” Kim Wall wrote of the Runit Dome nuclear waste site for the Guardian.
Kim was as prolific in her writing as she was talented, creative and empathetic. The topics she covered spanned generations, cultures and government agencies. She wrote of the tour buses traversing Sri Lanka’s battlefields, Chinese feminists in the D.C. Women’s March, and Idi Amin’s torture chambers in Uganda, humanizing these and many other stories for a global audience.
In 2015, Kim, Hendrik Hinzel and I traveled to the Marshall Islands. In the remote atoll of Enewetak, the site of US nuclear testing grounds, and also the ancestral home of the Marshallese, we investigated the lingering effects of the nuclear testing era and consequences of climate change.
Kim was an artist and storyteller in every sense, piecing together memory from various elders, recorded and oral histories as well as the moments we observed in the atolls. Her work compelled action from the US government and at its core, exemplified the mission of journalism to shine light on the world’s troubles as well as its beauty.
She was astute at communicating cultural and political nuance for a global audience. She did so with detail and care as she wrote of Marshallese ancestral land and how the nuclear testing era decimated traditions and livelihoods while also poisoning the islands for generations. From Beijing to Port-au-Prince, she imbued stories with detail and facts.
Kim was always observing and taking care to represent her sources and subjects as they would see themselves. While in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, she pursued a story of a German couple who have since retired on a private island.
“Susi and her husband Lutz, the mastermind behind the low-cost ‘Volksrocket’ rocket launch system, spent 28 years in the Libyan desert and became the dictator’s only western friends…Growing up amid wartime bombings in Third Reich Stuttgart, Lutz dreamed about going to space. He wrote a letter to Wernher von Braun, the architect of German and US aerospace programs, whose recommendations were pragmatic: astronauts have to be small, light and few, or bringing them to the moon would be too expensive.”
Back in Williamsburg, we’d lay out chapters of stories to edit for our multimedia series. During her parties, she’d project palm trees and tropical creatures on the wall, next to her tchotchkes from North Korea. The world through Kim’s eyes was a rare and special perspective. She didn’t shy away from tough questions nor did she hesitate to dig deeper at mystery and nuance. In Arkansas, we documented the lives of the Marshallese diaspora. The issues that define US society and history today are interwoven in her words and reporting as she described the lack of access to health care, equal pay and affordable education in the community.
“On a boat, blonde girls in shorts turn their heads to look as they pass by the scene. Americans still don’t understand who they are or what they’re doing here, Michigo explains: they know nothing of the bombs, the exile, the monster babies, the fallout cloud Ferdinand’s grandmother saw all the way in Majuro, or their disappearing, achingly beautiful islands.” – Kim Wall, Exodus
Across geopolitical topics and complex histories, she told human stories. In the same way she lived her life, she told them with grace, dignity and joyous care for our shared experiences. Kim also knew how to have fun. I’ll miss her humor, laughter and ability to connect with every person she encountered.
Though her legacy will live on, our profession has lost an incredible journalist. We’ve lost a friend, a daughter, a sister and a light of compassion in the world.
To honor Wall’s legacy, her family and friends have established the Kim Wall Memorial Fund, administered and supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation. The fund will provide a young woman reporter with the resources to do the work Kim would have done to cover subculture, broadly defined, including what she liked to call “the undercurrents of rebellion.”
Within four days of starting a crowdfunding campaign, the group collected $29,000 toward this cause. The aim is to raise $100,000 to create an endowment that will fund Kim’s legacy in perpetuity.
Checks in support of the Kim Wall Memorial Fund can be sent to:
International Women’s Media Foundation
c/o Courtney Flanagan
165 K Street NW Suite 1275
Washington, DC 20006
If you are interested in supporting or learning more, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
OPC member Hendrik Hinzel, who also worked with Wall on the story about the nuclear waste in the Marshall Islands, wanted Wall to be remembered for her work. He said in an email to the OPC that he hoped she would not be “remembered only as the murdered Swedish journalist but for her work and for the great impact her writing had.”
Below are links to several of Wall’s stories.
Interview with a real life vampire