Review by Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993–96)
As Jane Albritton (India 1967-69) writes in her Foreword to Lawrence Lihosit’s Peace Corps Experience: Write and Publish Your Memoir, “This book is no idle gift, but a gift-wrapped challenge.” Albritton should know, as Series Editor of the daunting, but brilliantly successful Peace Corps at 50 project.
The point of Lihosit’s book is that it is vitally important to write about your Peace Corps experience, not only for your own gratification, but for posterity, because the countries we served in are changing rapidly, and a Volunteer’s experience gives great insight into far-flung places at different points in history.
The history of Peace Corps is not a set of dry dates and names of Washington men in suits, but a grand parade of testimonials by courageous men and women who served their nation and the world unarmed, whose aim was simply to lend a hand. Join the parade.
Lihosit’s book is a manual for writing the best memoir possible. He takes you through the process page by page, from “Chapter One: Why Write?,” through chapters on “How to Begin,” “Polish,” “Format,” “Cover Design,” “Publication,” “Promotion,” adding several helpful appendices.
Any writer knows that muses are elusive, and you need all the help you can get to create a book. I’ve been studying the art of the memoir for years, through workshops, research and personal struggle. You never stop learning, a reminder brought home to me by many new tips I gleaned from Lihosit’s book: how to avoid libel suits, why cream color paper is better than white, the best fonts to use for print-on-demand (POD) publication, how to deal with POD publishers, what “Fair Use” means when quoting other sources.
Lihosit cites many successful Peace Corps memoirs as examples of what works, such as Heat, Sand and Friends, by Allen W. Fletcher, who used a crop cycle as the basic structure for his story. He lauds Tony D’Souza’s original cover design for his novel, Whiteman; and Mike Tidwell’s faithful chronology in The Ponds of Kalambayi: A Peace Corps Memoir.
Lihosit is a prolific writer, with a dozen books to his credit. He “reluctantly” served in the U.S. Army Reserves, and “enthusiastically” volunteered for the Peace Corps. He worked as an urban planner in exciting places, from Alaska to Argentina. He has been very active with the RPCV community, especially its writers, and he championed the creation of a permanent Peace Corps Experience collection at the Library of Congress.
Reading Lihosit’s book was a pleasure, not a dry exercise. He is knowledgeable, accessible and charming. Prurient reader that I am, I love to look at authors’ faces, and I missed seeing a picture of this “old as dirt” author on the jacket. But never mind, in my writing life, he has become my new best friend.
Leita Kaldi Davis worked for the United Nations and UNESCO, for Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Harvard University. She worked with Roma (Gypsies) for fifteen years, became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal at the age of 55, then went to work for the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Haiti for five years. She retired in Florida in 2002. She wrote a memoir of Senegal, Roller Skating in the Desert, (amazon.com/Publishamerica) and is working on a memoir of Haiti.