- “A Husband and Wife Are One Satan” set in Kazakhstan was written by Jeff Fearnside (Kazakhstan 2002–04), author of Lake: And Other Poems of Love in a Foreign Land that won the 2012 Peace Corps writers Award for Best Poetry Book;
- “International Women’s Day” by Jennifer Lucy Martin (Chad 1996-98); and
- “Eggs” set in set in Central African Republic is by Susi Wyss (Central African Republic 1990–92) who won the 2012 Peace Corps Writers Maria Thomas Fiction Award for The Civilized World: A Novel in Stories.
Archives for About PC writers
Social worker Melissa Vaughn is frustrated by the soullessness of urban life and the bureaucratic hoops she has to jump through to make a difference in the lives of the needy and downtrodden. Her only desire is to make a difference in one life and not have to follow rules laid out by people who know nothing about her job or how to help the indigent.
Then a boy comes along. A boy found living in the dark, rat infested subways of New York City. A mute boy devoid of hair, without a family or a history. The only clue to his past is a name sewn into his underwear: Adam.
Determined to help Adam, Melissa takes him to a remote section of the Blue Ridge Mountains to connect with him and possibly unravel the mystery of his past. She soon discovers his artistic genius and his ability to depict the violent and disturbing world in which he came from.
But in this remote section of the Blue Ridge Mountains is a group of religious snake handlers with an interest in Adam. For these religious fanatics see Adam as more than a troubled boy, they see him as The Chosen One.
And then people begin to die.
Published by Seventh Window Publications Child of Shadows will be available for smart phone and Nook.
Tom Miller has been writing about Latin America and the American Southwest for more than thirty years, bringing us extraordinary stories of ordinary people. His highly acclaimed adventure books include “The Panama Hat Trail” about South America, “On the Border,” an account of his travels along the U.S.-Mexico frontier, “Trading With the Enemy,” which takes readers on his journeys through Cuba, and, about the American Southwest, “Revenge of the Saguaro” (formerly “Jack Ruby’s Kitchen Sink” — which won the coveted Lowell Thomas Award for Best Travel Book of the Year in 2001). He has edited three compilations, “Travelers’ Tales Cuba,” “Writing on the Edge: A Borderlands Reader,” and “How I Learned English.” Additionally, he was a major contributor to the four-volume “Encyclopedia Latina.”
This following piece on Moritz Thomsen ran in the Washington Post Book Section in October 2008. Recently the article way expanded and republished in Spanish and English in Fronterad Revista Digital. It is republished with Tom’s permission.
Moritz Thomsen, a reporter
by Tom Miller
He came to my Quito residence for dinner that equatorial night in 1982 wearing blue jeans and a recently washed button-down work shirt. I had delayed meeting the amiable white-haired Moritz Thomsen until I’d finished reading Living Poor (1969) and The Farm on the River of Emeralds (1978) , two books that had established his reputation.
By that time, he had achieved a low-key expatriate celebrity for his writing, for his impoverished life in a miserable fishing village on South America’s Pacific coast and for his cameo role in Paul Theroux’s The Old Patagonian Express. He became a stop on the literary gringo trail, lending support to aspiring writers — especially those who, like him, had served in the Peace Corps — and he was eager to learn the latest about the New York literary scene from published authors. I took to Thomsen, then 67 years old, immediately.
Moritz Thomsen (1915-1991) came from an extremely wealthy Seattle family and considered his father an “outrageous catastrophe” on a par with World War II. In the mid-1960s, toiling as a somewhat eccentric central California pig farmer, Thomsen enlisted in the Peace Corps and ended up in Rioverde, Ecuador, a village in a region whose meager economy was based on the day’s catch from the Pacific Ocean or crops hacked out from the adjoining jungle. He described his life in occasional pieces for the San Francisco Chronicle and eventually wrote a book about Rioverde and the Peace Corps. Most of his local Peace Corps work — his efforts to establish co-op stores, find a more practical way to raise chickens and pigs, set up community organizations and the like — floundered, but one family, the Prados, responded avidly to his precepts. After he left the Peace Corps, Thomsen and the Prados bought a nearby farm and set about living there.
His first two books set out elegantly phrased but brutal truths about life among the poor. Drawing on Proust, Stravinsky and Hemingway, Thomsen got inside the skins of his rawboned neighbors and found them burdened with a combination of passion and ignorance.
He was a man of almost insufferable integrity and undeniable charm. He deflected efforts to have his works translated into Spanish because, as he once confided, he did not want those he lived among to see what he wrote about them.
The Ecuadorian intellectual class didn’t know what to make of this foreigner who championed people they didn’t particularly want to acknowledge, whose published works about their country were well received in the First World and who didn’t thrive on the polite dinner circuit in Quito or Guayaquil. They were not ready for revelations or confessions. Previous foreigners who had written about Ecuador — Charles Darwin, Ben Hecht, Ludwig Bemelmans, Henri Michaux — never dug as deep as Thomsen nor truly unpacked and stayed, as he did for the rest of his life. Ecuador and its literary salons pretty much ignored one of the great American ex-pat authors of the 20th century.
Through the years, Ecuador has heralded its own writers, whose international notoriety often reflected global literary trends. Perhaps its best known 20th-century author was Jorge Icaza, whose Huasipungo (1934) describes life among indentured laborers of the Andean highlands. At mid-century and beyond, Nelson Estupiñán Bass, from the same region where Thomsen lived, represented Ecuador in Pan-African literature with his plays and poetry. Jorge Enrique Adoum, a poet and translator who was once private secretary to Pablo Neruda, is considered Ecuador’s representative among the boom generation writers. When women’s literature began to emerge in Ecuador in the 1970s and ’80s, novelist Alicia Yánez Cossio, now almost 80, was a leading voice. Most recently, Leonardo Valencia, a novelist from Guayaquil now living in Spain, and Gabriela Alemán, a Quito author, represented their homeland as part of the 2007 Hay Festival’s much-ballyhooed gathering of “39 Latin American writers age 39 or under,”held in Bogotá. Alemán’s recently published sixth book, the half-comic, halfheartbreaking Poso Wells, opens near Guayaquil with a politician’s sudden death by electrocution when he touches a microphone after having wet his pants.
It is Alemán’s generation of young Ecuadorian writers that has reappraised Moritz Thomsen and found his works worthy of rediscovery and celebration. They recently staged the First International Conference on Moritz Thomsen in Quito. The salient questions were these: Was Thomsen an ex-pat or a true Ecuadorian? Should his work be considered travel literature? What of his pre-Ecuador journalism in small-town California newspapers? And last, but not least, were we all engaging in hagiography?
At its peak, the conference filled large tables in Quito restaurants with foreigners and locals energized by Thomsen memories, analysis and pending posthumous works. (A hitherto-unpublished manuscript, Bad News From a Black Coast, is said to be forthcoming, and his first two books are finally being translated into Spanish in Ecuador.) The city of Quito posthumously made him an honorary citizen, with a street eventually to be named in his memory. It was a vibrant gathering, full of Pan-American literary chatter and long-lost friends. Some of us visited Libri Mundi, the well-stocked international bookstore Thomsen helped found, which has spawned branches throughout the country.
Not coincidentally, no one from Guayaquil, the far larger, industrial metropolis on the Pacific side of the country, participated. The rivalry between the Andes and the coast, which plays out in politics, sports, business and entertainment, extends to literary attitudes, too. Icaza’s international classic Huasipungo, for example, is not “the kind of literature I respect from Ecuadorian writers,” a Guayaquil editor sniffed. “Too much politics and social awareness, but very little artistic sensibility.”
Regardless of where literary opinions come from in this small but intense country, Ecuador doesn’t have many real readers. A thousand copies is a common print run for a trade book. Although Ecuador claims a 90-percent literacy rate among its nearly 14 million inhabitants, many have only functional reading skills. Depending on whether you’re in the jungle, the highlands or on the coast, the written word as art may not have much value.
Further, many of the country’s indigenous languages have an extensive oral tradition but a narrow written one.
When I lived in Ecuador in the early 1980s researching a book, I saw the chain-smoking Thomsen with some frequency and formed a deep friendship that continued in extensive correspondence. When I saw him last, he was living near the Esmeraldas River, his emphysema worsening, in what was, essentially, a tree house with a typewriter, books, a phonograph and classical records. We sensed it would be our last face-to-face visit, though neither of us said so. A few years later, he moved to Guayaquil for its sea-level altitude, choosing to live out his life alone, writing determinedly in a small apartment where, in the summer of 1991, he died of cholera, the poor man’s disease.
June 2014 Fiction Open
Michael Varga receives $2,500 for short story “Chad Erupts in Strife.”
After his tour in Chad, Michael Varga became a Foreign Service Officer serving primarily in the Middle East. He holds a Master’s degree in Economics from the University of Notre Dame and a Bachelor’s degree in English from Rider University. Michael is also playwright and actor. Three of his plays have been produced. “Collapsing into Zimbabwe,” a short story, earned him first prize in the competition sponsored by the Toronto Star. His columns have appeared in various newspapers and journals. This will be his first off-campus fiction in print.
Here’s what Mike has to say about his writing and himself, and the Peace Corps.
I went to Chad in 1977 as a 21-year-old freshly minted college grad in the Peace Corps. Chad has been very much a part of my personal narrative for all of my adult life. Of course, I knew when I was in Africa-especially in my remote village where I was the only foreigner living amongst 4000 Chadians-that this was not a usual stop on the list of locations for budding writers. I knew about the Hemingway and Fitzgerald wannabes and their louche residencies in Paris.
But I came from a poor family and there were no funds to support an apprenticeship in Europe birthing deathless prose. The Peace Corps seemed to make sense. I could be of service for two years to people who really needed help, and then on my return to the U.S. I could travel and see parts of the world I wasn’t likely to see otherwise. It was a deal I was willing to make in my youth.
Chad forced me to live on a very basic level. I had no running water or electricity, and I was in a difficult-to-reach village nestled in thick vegetation at the fringes of a tropical rainforest. It was hard. When civil war broke out and all the Peace Corps Volunteers were evacuated, I was heartbroken to exit Chad so suddenly.
I became a diplomat and wound up traveling the world through my various assignments as a Foreign Service Officer. It seems ironic now, looking back, to understand that I thought the Peace Corps would deliver my only chance to travel. I had to squeeze all the gusto from my time abroad in the Peace Corps because I believed it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It just goes to show that we often have little clue how our destinies will unfold in ways we could have never envisioned in our youth. Life is about what surprises us.
While I never forgot my time in Chad, I went on with the things any adult embraces as he matures: relationships, jobs, a home, family. I got busy with the mundane details of life, and rarely mentioned my time in Chad.
One day, I learned I had some very serious health problems. Things might end for me sooner rather than later. That kind of news grabs you by the lapels and makes you sit up and say: what does my life mean? What have I done that anyone might care about, after I’m gone?
Although I was in the middle of many international events when I worked for the State Department, and a memoir might be interesting for others to learn of my behind-the-scenes roles in some key conflicts in the Middle East, eventually friends and other writers told me I was burying the lead. Another tale about infighting within the government over some policy of what to do in the powder keg Middle East? Did the world really need that?
My friends said I should write about Chad. The story of what that 21 year old experienced in Africa could be a compelling tale, they said. In my mind, I thought about all the mistakes that 21 year old had made. He knew so little about life, and often didn’t choose wisely. I could look at him now-with the perspective of an older man in his fifties-and see the pitfalls in his reasoning as he tried to make sense of living in a culture-the Chadian culture-so different from the American one.
I listened to those friends. The novel, Under Chad’s Spell, available through Amazon, is the result. It’s a fictionalized account of some of the things I learned in Chad. Not everything that occurs in the novel actually happened, but that’s the beauty of crafting fiction. Your creative juices get to exercise their influence. You take a kernel of a real event and make it pop with some more accelerated drama. The incidentals that you describe give it that air of reality, of someone having lived this story. But your characters lead you to perhaps something very different from what actually took place.
You can get more information about the novel by visiting my website, www.michaelvarga.com. The story that Glimmer Train has chosen, “Chad Erupts in Strife,” was part of that novel originally, but in the end it wasn’t a good fit for the book. Luckily, it has found a home in Glimmer Train. It’s an honor to have it recognized through this competition.
Writers write. I encourage you to review your biography again. Maybe there’s something in it that you know so well, that you take for granted in your life-experiences. Think about them as raw material that could be shaped for a very different outcome for someone like you, who’s not you. Find the seeds in your own life. Let them sprout into something creative that your imagination shapes to hold a reader. You may have to reveal some pitfalls you fell into, but that’s all part of living, and the living is what feeds our writing.
The weekend edition of the WSJ has an amusing Peace Corps story entitled, “My Mom the Adventurer. Myself, Not So Much” written by novelist Dina Nayer, who’s debut novel, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, was released last year. The article is about how Dina went to visit her mother, who at the age 56 was a PCV in a rural Thailand village outside of Chiang Mai back in 2012. Anyone who has had parents or friends, etc., visit their site knows what happens next.
While Dina grew up in America from the age of 10, her mother had been a doctor, a volunteer health-care worker, a radio personality, a pastry chef, had served time in a Iranian jail, and then reaching the U.S. she became a PCV.
Daughter Dina went to Harvard.
Well, Dina comes to visit to stay for a month in her mother’s thatch-roofed hut (she lasted one night) and she needs to go to the bathroom. (I know you know what’s coming!)
“My mother pointed to a door past the kitchen, a look of concern passing over her face as if she had just remembered, ‘Oh yes, my daughter is a little pampered.’ The toilet, I discovered, was a hole in the ground next to a bucket of water and a bowl. I ran out in shock, about to explode. My mother, hiding a smile, said, “See? Just like Iran!”
Later that first night, PCV mom gets under the mosquito net with her daughter, puts a plate of watermelon on the wooden platform and told her stories of when she was a child in Iran and played with snakes and rodents. She then talks about the ‘toilet issue’ and asks her daughter: “Do you want to be more than just a weak woman with a pen. Don’t you want to write stories from all over the world, gathered from all kinds of people, not just the ones you already know?”
My mother, she writes, “knows what words move me. Yes, I wanted all those things. I mustered my strength and prepared to conquer the hole. Afterward, I couldn’t stop congratulating myself. “I can’t believe I did that,” I said. ‘I swear, that was harden than Harvard.”
Ain’t that the truth.
Mary-Ann Tirone Smith wrote the first novel by a PCV, Lament For A Silver-Eyed Woman, published by Morrow in 1987. She is also the author of a half dozen other novels, including The Book of Phoebe (1985) and a series of mystery novels. She has also written a Memoir, Girls of Tender Age which recounts a bittersweet portrait of growing up in 1950s Hartford, Connecticut when a serial pedophile kills her best friends. Mixed with that story, is her own young life story, including living with an autistic brother at a time before anyone knew what that meant.
Now Mary-Ann has turned her talents as a novelist in a new direction with the publication is this novel The Honoured Guest: Anne Alger Craven, Witness to Sumter, in Her Words.
Here’s a quick summary of that story:
It is November, 1860. Anne Alger Craven leaves her home at Abingdon Square, Manhattan, prepared to enter the lion’s den that is Charleston, South Carolina; Anne is an abolitionist. In Charleston the penalty for supporting emancipation is execution.But Anne is also a metallurgist, granddaughter of Cyrus Alger, founder of Boston’s Alger Iron Works, birthplace of the great cannon, the 50,000 pound Columbiad.
Upon the death of her father, Anne inherited the Iron Works and is now the last in the family’s line of ordnance specialists. So when the opportunity arises to travel to the newest and grandest United States fort, Sumter, she cannot resist. She will join with the tiny 1st Artillery regimen to observe the mounting and testing of the very guns she helped develop.
Once aboard a locomotive, the metallurgist in Anne is in wonder at traveling annihilating speeds of 30 to 35 miles per hour encased in cast iron. After South Carolina secedes and Abraham Lincoln is elected, the Sumter Company is surrounded by 6,000 Confederate troops-most untested volunteers-manning state-of-the-art batteries and setting a David and Goliath story into motion.
Nine officers, sixty-four enlisted men-half of them musicians of the regimental band-and one civilian, Anne, all freezing and near to starving endure the attack on Sumter. In her memoir, Anne Alger Craven exposes the dual-edged sword of what men call honor and glory.
From the unique perspective of a woman caught up in the commencement of the Civil War, she reveals exactly how and why the war began, what might have been forestalled, or even prevented, and the horrific catastrophe that followed.
The e-Book edition is available at Amazon and apple/iTunes, and will be coming soon to Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.
Mark Jacobs (Paraguay 1978-80) is a former U.S. Foreign Service officer who has published more than 100 stories in magazines including The Atlantic, The Southern Humanities Review, The Idaho Review, The Southern Review, and The Kenyon Review. His story “How Birds Communicate” won The Iowa Review fiction prize. His five books include A Handful of Kings, published by Simon and Shuster, and Stone Cowboy, by Soho Press, which won the Peace Corps Writers Maria Thomas Award. His website can be found at http://www.markjacobsauthor.com.
His latest publication is “The Italian Cook,” in the Adirondack Review. You can read it at:
WASHINGTON, DC - Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to key Administration posts, among them:
Carlos Torres, Nominee for Deputy Director, Peace Corps
Carlos Torres is the Associate Director for Global Operations at the Peace Corps, a position he has held since 2013. He previously served as Regional Director for Inter-America and Pacific Region at the Peace Corps from 2010 to 2013. He was an independent consultant on international projects from 2000 to 2010.
Mr. Torres founded CARANA Corporation in 1984 and served as its President and CEO until 2000. He was a private contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Costa Rica from 1983 to 1984, and from 1976 to 1983 he worked in the Financial Industries Section of Arthur D. Little, Inc.
Mr. Torres received a B.S. from Babson College and an M.S.M. from the Arthur D. Little Management Education Institute.
Ellen Urbani (Guatemala 1991-92)
Ellen Urbani’s (Guatemala 1991-92) memoir, When I Was Elena was published in 2006 by The Permanent Press. It is her Peace Corps story of living in Guatemala. It is also her story of coming of age as young women in the guerrilla-infested mountains of Latin America. Her narrative is interlaced, chapter-by-chapter, with tales told from the perspectives of seven HCN women she meets in her tour.
Now Ellen has returned with her second book. Next August, Forest Avenue Press, will publish her novel, Landfall. It will be released on August 29, 2015, ten years to the day after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans.
A summary of the novel from Forest Avenue Press outlines the plot: In a car laden with supplies intended for hurricane victims, Rose and her mother catapult off the road onto the shoals of the Black Warrior River in Alabama, killing an unidentified storm survivor. To escape the scene, Rose, orphaned by the crash, laces the dead girl’s sneakers onto her own feet and cannot bring herself to take them off. When she learns she shares not only shoes but a name and a birth year with the Jane Doe, Rose embarks upon a guilt-assuaging odyssey to retrace the girl’s last steps-more than 600 miles across the still-reeling South-and carry home the news of her death to her unsuspecting kin. Told from the alternating perspectives of these two teenagers, Rose and Rosebud, one white, one black, whose stories and destinies surge together in wild and wonderful crests of prose, Landfall proves that when the secrets we bury and the histories we cannot bear to repeat converge, they may well become the truths that sustain us in a storm.
In selecting Landfall for publication, Laura Stanfill, Forest Avenue Press publisher, writes, “Our committee fell immediately and irrevocably in love with Landfall and the lives of these strong mothers and daughters. It’s a eulogy to Rosebud, and to Rose’s well-intentioned mom, and to all the victims of Katrina, and in giving the dead voices, Ellen is able to tell us the untold stories, the secrets held tight, that would otherwise have been lost to loss.”
For more information, check out: http://www.forestavenuepress.com/forest-avenue-press-announces-its-2015-selection/
After graduating from Bowdoin College in Maine, David Mather served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in southern Chile from 1968 to 1970. Profoundly influenced by his two years living and working in the campo [countryside], he bought a small piece of land in the woods of New Hampshire where he carved out a simple homestead and has lived a mile off grid for over forty years. He ultimately began and ran a successful specialty lumber company, but being self-employed, he was able to continue to travel a great deal, primarily to Third World Countries.
Ten years ago, he began to downsize his business and, with more free time, wrote One For The Road which was published through Peace Corps Writers in 2011 (OnefortheRoad-Mather.com). About a PCV in Chile who falls in love with both the campo and a campesina, it is a mix of fact and fiction, and has been described by a friend as “memoir masquerading as a novel.” While working on the book, David soon realized that his memory was fuzzy in many areas, and he wanted the book, above all, to be accurate. Consequently, he traveled back to Chile twice to do research and “get it right.” During the second trip, he learned of the demise of the black-necked swans in Valdivia, and the idea for a sequel, albeit with a much different storyline, was born.
This is some of what David learned on that second trip:
The Carlos Anwandter Nature Sanctuary is located on the Cruces River near the town center of Valdivia in southern Chile. It is commonly believed that the refuge was the home of the largest population of black-necked swans in South America. On January 31st, 2004, the Celco (Celulosa Arauco y Constitucion) pulp mill owned by businessman Anacleto Angelini began operation up river from the refuge. The mill intentionally and systematically began to dump its toxic effluents into the river, and by August, 2005, only four birds out of an estimated five thousand were observed. The birds strong enough to fly had left the sanctuary, the others had died. Autopsies attributed their deaths to the presence of high levels of iron and other metals polluting the river.
When the Whistling Stopped [Peace Corps Writers, 2014] is an “eco-thriller” based on this real event. The novel is about a young couple’s quest to expose and bring down the amoral mill owner, but when he retaliates, not only their lives, but also those of their friends, are soon threatened with surprising and devastating results. The twists and turns of this fast-paced story make it hard to put the book down.
When the Whistling Stopped
by David J. Mather (Chile 1968–70)
Peace Corps Writers
$12.95 (paperback), $6.95 (Kindle)
To purchase either of these books from Amazon.com, click on the book cover, the bold book title or the publishing format you would like — and Peace Corps Worldwide, an Amazon Associate, will receive a small remittance that will help support our annual writers awards.
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