When I interviewed Moritz Thomsen back in July 1990, I asked him when someone like himself, who had lived for so long in another culture, writes about that society, are they writing from any sort of advantage: the advantage of an insider, for example, or are they limited by always being a foreigner in a strange land.
Moritz answered in part, “The only thing I know about foreign culture is how I feel about it: that’s what I’ve always tried to write about. Cornell wrote about the overpowering importance of our emotions to ourselves. The trick for a writer, and he is probably like most writers writing about his emotions, is to make these emotions important to others. What a risky and awful business to write, finding yourself interesting when you’re not.”
We also published in RPCV Writers & Readers, back in May 1995, an exchange of letters between Moritz and Craig Storti (Morocco 1970-72) written in 1978 and ‘79. In these brief excerpts to Storti, Moritz gave advice about writing, writers, the writing life, and Paul Theroux. He wrote Craig at one point, “Paul Theroux, and exPCV from Africa, was paid by the State Department to come to Quito and give a talk at the embassy about “Aspects of the American Novel.” It wasn’t particularly impressive, but he was such a nice guy everyone forgave him.”
In another letter (14 January 1979) Moritz gives Craig advice about making a career as a writer. “So my advice (unasked) is to go out and get in the middle of things, live as intensely as you can, and get it down as purely as you can. Then you can tell editor A who orders 750 emotional words on the life of the fruit moguls to go fuck himself. Isn’t getting involved in big events (by that I mean events which trigger and enflame your own proclivities) the most important thing. If you had been hiding in the bushes that day when God came down and had a chat with Moses, you needn’t have had a style like J. Conrad to be the most famous reporter in history.”
Mark Covert also wrote a wonderful series on Moritz that appeared in the November 2001 issue of (www.smokebox.net) and was republished in RPCV Writers & Readers. You can read it at