Patricia Taylor Edmisten (Peru 1962-64) won a finalist award in the Alaska International Film Festival (AIFF) competition for her screenplay Kennedy’s Children, based on her Peace Corps novel, The Mourning of Angels. The Festival received several hundred submissions from over two dozen countries. The AIFF is Alaska’s leading independent film and screenplay recognition platform and competition that awards innovative and diverse films that connect independent filmakers’ vision and the artistic process to the emerging global arts community. Awards are presented to less than fifteen percent of total applicants.
Archives for Literary Type
Bonnie Lee Black (Gabon 1996-98) who lives and teaching writing in Taos, New Mexico, has written How To Cook a Crocodile. It is the first book to be published by our new imprint, PeaceCorpsWriters.
Bonnie, author of the memoir, Somewhere Child (Viking Press, 1981) decided at the age of 50, after a breast cancer scare, and ten years of physically exhausting catering work, to shut down her New York business and join the Peace Corps.
“I was a health and nutrition Volunteer in Lastoursville, in the middle of the rainforest, and like so many PCV before me, I emerged from this experience having learned more than I taught. Unlike other Peace Corps authors, though, I tell my tale in a new way: as interconnecting essays with recipes.”
Bonnie goes on to say, “In 1942 - in the midst of war rationing, when many American households had reason to fear the wolf at the door - an opinionated, highbrow beauty from California published a book of essays with recipes. Mary Frances Kennedy (famously known as M. F. K.) Fisher’s How To Cook a Wolf, as she herself described it, was about survival, ‘about living as decently as possible with the ration cards and blackouts and like miseries of World War II.’ Her essays were erudite. Her recipes, practical. Today, her book, still in print, seems charmingly out of date, quaint.”
Bonnie’s book, How To Cook a Crocodile, could be thought of as the wild grandchild of Fisher’s book. It is intended to be both more and less than How To Cook a Wolf: more down-to-earth, more adventuresome; less opinionated, philosophical, high-tone essay; more dramatic, personal narrative. What both books have in common, though, is that the item to be cooked stands purely as a metaphor for survival.
We will announce when the book is for sale on our site from Amazon.com
We know that Bonnie’s book will be the first of many PeaceCorpsWriters books.
Cynthia Morrison Phoel’s (Bulgaria 1994-96) new book of stories, Cold Snap, has just been published with great reviews in Booklist and Foreward Magazine. Cindy is out of Boston and doing readings, interviews, and meeting up with Bulgarian RPCVs. First off is a trip to Chicago where on Friday she will be interviewed on Chicago Public Radio, and for the Chicago Tribune. Then there is a reading at a Bulgarian restaurant in Chi-town with RPCVs. The restaurant is called ”Bulgaria.” Cindy will read, take questions, and sign books, and, oh, drink beer! You can learn more at: CAPCAfundraising@gmail.com
Meanwhile read this great review of Cold Snap that appeared in the Dallas Morning News over the weekend. It was written by Anne Morris, a Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News, and a member of the National / The Dallas Morning News Circle.
It’s not unusual for a returning Peace Corps volunteer to write a book. So many have that it’s almost a subgenre. Cynthia Morrison Phoel’s debut collection of six stories set in a Bulgarian village represents that kind of fiction at its best. Phoel conveys a unique sense of place, yet creates characters whose problems we recognize.
The stories in Cold Snap are warm, quirky and sometimes funny. Her fictional village of Old Mountain is 60 kilometers east of Bulgaria’s capital city, Sofia, and feels even more remote. A place of extreme temperatures, bleak prospects, friendships of convenience and the presence of Dallas on TV, Old Mountain is a community of hopeful hardship. Its traits are best represented by Cucumber, the ugly street dog “owned by no one and cared for by all.”
In the first story, “A Good Boy,” Dobrin is a sensitive teenager who worries about his parents’ marriage. His father has again accepted electronics in place of needed pay. This time it’s a TV satellite dish, largest in the village, “and at night the dish looks larger than the moon.” The males watch sports and porn, while the long-suffering mother, a teacher of literature, lies down with a migraine.
In “Galia,” an only child’s parents smooth the way for her with bribes, hire a classmate to do her homework and buy her a husband. Attempting to provide Galia with certainty in life, they unknowingly take it away. Even her disgusting husband will tell her, “When I’m with you, I feel like I’m with nobody.”
In “Satisfactory Proof,” Plamen achieves a master’s degree in number theory but fails to see the needs of those around him. He has learned how to take but not how to give in return, his supportive father finally realizes.
“Never Trust a Man Who ___” takes readers into the village classroom where their teacher, Ms. Kuneva, does her best to teach the “young ladies and gentlemen” to speak English. In this often funny story, she shares her rocky life experiences, and the student dialogues involve her being “spurned, jilted, shunned and forsaken.”
In “I Guess That Counts for Something,” an old woman mourning her husband’s death bonds with a lonely boy who is visiting her neighbor. They fall into a pattern of playing a game in which each tries to impress the other with something they possess: two frogs mating, for example, or a perfect report card.
The final, novella-length story gives the book its title. As the village suffers freezing temperatures, waiting for central heat to be switched on, characters from the earlier stories reappear. Their problems peak as the cold deepens.
Behind in his homework and with problems at home, the teenage Dobrin sees no point to it all. “Even if he mastered the English language . . . he was still going to end up in some mildewing apartment with pigeons whirring in the bathroom vents and the cold everywhere around him.”
Then the book tells you, “Maybe not.” The heat comes on, and with it, some sense of hope.
When the book ends, you will not want to leave these people. Fortunately, you can read the stories again and learn a little more about Phoel’s village each time you do.
Anne Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org
To order this book from Amazon, click on the book cover or the bold book title — and Peace Corps Worldwide, an Amazon Associate, will receive a small remittance.
P.F. Kluge, the Writer in Residence at Kenyon College, author of the novel Eddie and The Cruisers, Biggest Elvis, and, most recently, Gone Tomorrow, as well as having two films based on his work, Dog Day Afternoon and Eddie And The Cruisers, has a novel coming out this September from Overlook Press.
This novel is set in the 1980’s and follows the life of Hans Greifinger, a German-American who immigrated to the United States in 1928 and settled in New York and New Jersey. It is a story of him and his son, a nationally-syndicated travel writer.
Askold Melnyczuk writes of the book, “Kluge knows his characters from the inside and his comic, loving portrayals stand with the best of Russo and Irving. Jersey has never seemed more exotic. Kluge entertains while provoking all the big questions about the meaning of origins and the search for home.”
Reading an article by Sue Halpern in The New York Review of Book (June 20, 2010) entitled, “The iPad Revolution” I came across this interesting paragraph:
“According to the Association of American Publishers, book sales fell nearly 2 percent last year, to $23.9 billion. Educational books and paperbacks took the biggest hit. Their downward trajectory seemed to confirm what Steve Jobs said to The New York Times back in early 2008, when he reflected on, and then dismissed, the newly released Kindle, a device which he said would go nowhere largely because Americans have stopped reading. ‘It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,’ Jobs told the Times. ‘Forty percent of the people in the US read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.’
“Imagine his surprise, just two years later, when the number of book apps–books that can be read on the iPhone and iPod touch–surpassed the number of game apps in Apple’s own App Store, and sales of digital books for machines like the Kindle and the Sony Reader tripled, to over $313 million, with analysts at Goldman Sachs predicting that US sales of e-books would grow to $3.2 billion by 2015, and that Apple would command a third of that pie….More people may not have been reading, but those who were doing so on digital readers seemed to be reading a lot.”‘
So, the word to all writers: keep writing and your work will appear on paper on on some book apps, somewhere!
This is a list of the books that are the finalists for Peace Corps Writers Awards of 2010. These awards are for books published in 2009. From this list below one book in each category will be selected by the committee(s) and announced in July on our website. In 2009 more than 70 books-fiction, non-fiction, books of essays, memoirs, and poetry by RPCVs were sent to us for review. We think it is about 90% of all books published by RPCVs last year. If you have a favorite book, let me know why, and I’ll pass on your recommendation to the committees. Thank you.
p.s. If you think a book has been inadvertently left off this list, also please let me know.
for the Paul Cowan Non-Fiction Award
Clintonomics: How Bill Clinton Reengineered the Reagan Revolution
By Jack Godwin (Gabon 1982-84)
The Last of His Mind:
A Year in the Shadow of Alzheimer’s
by John Thorndike (El Salvador 1967-69)
Madness Under the Royal Palms:
Love and Death Behind the Gates of Palm Beach)
by Laurence Leamer (Nepal 1965-67)
The Italian Summer:
Golf, Food, and Family at Lake Como
By Roland Merullo (Micronesia 1979-80)
for the Maria Thomas Fiction Award
The Broken Teaglass
By Emily Arsenault (South Africa 2004-06)
Inherit The Family: Marrying into Eastern Europe
Stories by Vello Vikerkaar (Estonia 1992-94)
Palos Verdes Blues
A Jack Liffey Mystery
By John Shannon (Malawi 1965-67)
More Stories from the Upper Peninsula
by Lauri Anderson (Nigeria 1965-67)
North Star Press of St. Cloud,
by Kirsten Johnson (Kenya 1982-84)
Plain View Press
The Incarnation of CatMan Billy
By Will Jordan (Senegal & Liberia 1971-72)
The Press of Light
In an Uncharted Country
by Clifford Garstang (South Korea 1976-78)
The 38 Million Dollar Smile
by Richard Stevenson (aka Richard Lipez (Ethiopia 1962-64)
for the Best Peace Corp Memoir
First Comes Love, then Comes Malaria:
How a Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and a Third World Adventure Changed My Life
Eve Brown-Waite (Ecuador 1988)
Heat, Sand, and Friends
by Allen W. Fletcher (Senegal 1969-71)
Worcester Publishing Ltd.
for the Best Book of Poetry
What The Abenaki Say About Dogs
…and other poems and stories of Lake Champlain
By Dan Close (Ethiopia 1966-68)
The Tamarac Press
The Mind Dancing
By Tony Zurlo (Nigeria 1962-64)
Art and Calligraphy by Vivian Lu
Plain View Press
Rock Worn by Water
By Florence Chard Dacey (Nigeria 1963-65)
Plain View Press
for the Best Travel Book
The Vineyards and Wineries of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado
by Starley Talbott (South Afirca 2001)
The Fourth Part of the World:
The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map that Gave America Its Name
by Toby Lester (Yemen 1988-90)
for the Best Children’s Book
Henry and Anthony
by H. Lynn Beck (El Salvador, Brazil)
by Terri [Stephens] McIntyre (Pakistan 1963-65)
for the Best Book of Photography
Subway Art: 25th Anniversary Edition
Martha Cooper (Thailand 1963-65)
Through Our Eyes: Peace Corps In Korea,1966-1981
Editor by Bill Harwood (Korea 1975-77)
COMA the Artist Company Korea
The Atlantic has their fiction 2010 issue published. As always, it is a great collection of stories and essays, including one by Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963-65), on “Fiction in the Age of E-books”…..The Atlantic says that analysts estimate Americans will buy on the order of 6 million e-readers this years–and by 2014, an estimated 32 million people will own one. What does this mean to writers, storytelling, etc., they asked Theroux in a short q & a. that appears in the current issue.
In part of his replies about e-books, Paul replied, “Movable type seemed magical to the monks who were illuminating manuscripts and copying texts. Certainly e-books seem magical to me.”
Paul, however, admits that he still writes his first drafts in longhand.
Finally, the interviewer asks: What’s your advice for a young person who wants to grow up to become a fiction writer?
PT: Notice how many of the Olympic athletes effusively thanked their mothers for their success? “She drove me to my practice at four in the morning,” etc. Writing is not figure skating or skiing. Your mother will not make you a writer. My advice to any young person who wants to write is: leave home.
Paul might have added, “Join the Peace Corps and go to Africa as I first did back in the summer of ’63.”
The New Yorker for April 19, 2010, has a piece by Peter Hessler (China 1996-98) on his return home from China. Peter and his wife Leslie Chang decided to settle in a rural Colorado, both of them strangers to America. Peter writes, “Neither of us had much experience as adults in the United States. I had left after college to attend graduate school in England, [he was a Rhodes Scholar] and then I travelled to China; before I knew it I had been gone for a decade and a half … Leslie had even fewer American roots; she had been born and brought up in New York, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, and she had made her career as a writer in Shanghai and Beijing.”
They met in Beijing where Leslie was a reporter for the NYTIMES and Peter, after his Peace Corps tour, found work.
It is a lovely piece and one to which all RPCVs can relate, having come home themselves with new views of the world, and how we do things differently at home in America.
The article is entitled, “Go West” and here is the abstract from the New Yorker’s website.
PERSONAL HISTORY about the writer’s return to the Unites States after living in China. Writer describes the movers who packed up the possessions he and his wife Leslie wanted shipped from Beijing to the United States. Neither the writer nor his wife had much experience with the United States. The writer describes the way the Chinese see the United States. In China, the writer came to think of the U.S. as essentially imaginary: it was always being created in people’s minds. After years of standing out as a foreigner in China, the writer liked the idea of rural solitude and anonymity. He and his wife looked for a small town in the Rocky Mountains where nobody knew them-that was their own Chinese version of the American Dream. Describes house hunting in Colorado. They signed a one-year lease on a brand-new house in Ridgway. Setting up their phone service, the writer was told that there would be an extra fee for an unlisted number. He opted for listing the number under his wife’s name: Peter and Leslie Chang. Tells about telemarketing calls they received from China, including one woman who gave a pitch for a vacation spot in Wai Er Ming (Wyoming). Describes the arrival of their possessions from China. The writer says that it wasn’t until he moved back to the United States that he realized how much he had missed the way Americans talk. People in China didn’t like to be the center of attention and they took little pleasure in narrative. They rarely lingered on interesting details. In America, there’s no reliable small talk; at any moment a conversation can become personal. Describes a religious rally called “Cowboy Up for Christ” and tells about a telemarketing call from the National Rifle Association. The writer entered the Las Vegas half marathon, which he won after faster runners missed a turn on the course. He was interviewed on local television with a racer dressed as Elvis.
Journalist, foreign correspondent, and former Peace Corps Evaluator, Stanley Meisler, has written the first complete history of the Peace Corps, tracing its evolution through the past nine presidential terms. The book, When the World Calls: The Inside Story of the Peace Corps and Its First Fifty Years will be published early in 2011.
Relying on a variety of historical sources, including new material in national archives, presidential libraries and anecdotal personal narratives, Meisler, who was at the Peace Corps from 1964-67, has written a dispassionate summary of how the agency changed, tilted with the times, and survived attacks from both the right and the left, but especially the right. Meisler’s last book was on Kofi Annan and entitled, A Man of Peace in A World of War. It was published by John Wiley & Sons in 2007. His Peace Corps book is coming out from Beacon Press.
This is a major development in the story of the Peace Corps. It is a history that will be written by a talented writer who knows the agency from the inside and from the early days, and a journalist who has observed PCVs at work around the world.
Meisler was with the Los Angeles Times as a foreign and diplomatic correspondent for thirty yers, living and working in Nairobi, Mexico City, Madrid, Toronto, Paris, Barcelona, the United Nations and Washington.
The publisher of this ground breaking history of the Peace Corps is Beacon Press, a Boston publishing company that has over the years published many classics, including James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son, Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensinal Man, and Jean Baker Miller’s Toward a New Psychology of Women.
The Peace Corps, in case you have been napping, will be fifty years old in 2011.
[I picked this up off the Internet, a recent interview with award winning poet, Susan Rich (Niger 1984-86) done by Seattle pi. Susan's new collection of poems, The Alchemist's Kitchen, will be published on May 1, 2010.]
As I’m sure you all know, it’s National Poetry Month, and I was happy to catch up with a very busy Susan Rich to ask her about her newly released book, The Alchemist’s Kitchen (White Pine 2010). Also the author of Cures Include Travel and The Cartographer’s Tongue ~ Poems of the World, Susan has received awards from PEN USA, The Times Literary Supplement, and Peace Corps Writers. Recent poems have appeared in the Antioch Review, Harvard Review, Poetry International and TriQuarterly.
Q: In The Alchemist’s Kitchen, you write about many topics, among them love and loss, journeys and transformation - when did this collection begin to come together for you?
A: Putting together a collection is such a strange process — an alchemy of a sort — if you will accept my pun. I find it a really difficult thing to do. In some sense, the book came together for me last summer when I met the photographer, Philipp Schumacher, whose art work is on the cover. The mixture of the surreal and the film noir helped me to re-order the poems and to write a few more that needed to be in the book for a more organic, unified whole.
Q: Your collection includes poems of Bosnia, Somalia, and Alki Beach. How do you balance poems of global concern with a more domestic world?
A: Good question. I’ve been thinking about global citizenship a great deal lately. Does the poet have an added responsibility to write from an extended outlook? This question was hotly debated in South Africa in the 1980s. Many poets and writers went to prison for the words they wrote against the Apartheid regime. Poets like Pablo Neruda and Federico Garcia Lorca who were active in protesting their governments fascist regimes also come to mind. Closer to home, I think of Sam Hamill refusing Laura Bush’s invitation to attend a tea party at the White House. Instead, he started a national movement of Poets Against the War. In my poetry, I want the global and local ideas to intermingle. A friend of mine who has never traveled outside the United States once told me that my poems about the Tuareg of Niger seemed as accessible to her as a plate of scrambled eggs. Since I have lived in several corners of the world, I don’t believe in the exotic; I believe instead in the road trip, the Peace Corps, the passport in one’s hand that leads us all further down the road.
Q: You’re not only a poet but a professor at Highline Community College - how do you fit in the time to write? What’s your process like?
A: Most of my writing happens over winter break and during the summer. In fact, each summer for the last fifteen years I’ve traveled to a writing colony or retreat center so I could take intense time for my work. Two years ago, I converted my one car garage into a writing studio. Sometimes I can steal an hour or two to work on a poem in there. So to answer your question, my process is uneven. I need to see hours, if not days, spread out before me. I also read a lot as I write — and eat a fair bit of grapes or chocolate.
Q: In what ways does your work - from being in the Peace Corps to teaching English and Film Studies - affect your poetry?
A: I am a poet of place first and foremost. Now that I live in Seattle, there are ferry docks and waterways coursing through my poems. I write out of my awareness of a certain time and place. Since I teach full-time, I spend a good deal of time with students. As a result, The Alchemist’s Kitchen has several poems inspired by my students lives. There is even a poem where my students are discussing a film.
Q: Poetry can be challenge to market to mainstream audiences - what do you most want readers to know about poetry and why they should read it along with novels, nonfiction, etc.?
A: I would like to (politely, of course) turn your question on its head. Why should anyone read novels or non-fiction? Our earliest literature is poetry, not prose. Edward Hirsch states there has never been a culture anywhere in the world that did not have poetry.
Think of poetry in the way you think about food. You wouldn’t decide not to eat because you don’t care for green beans. Same with poetry. Poetry is sustenance for all of us. After September 11th occurred and our nation was plunged into mourning, newspapers around the country began publishing poetry almost immediately. The poems of W.H. Auden and Naomi Shihab Nye were passed person to person via email over and over again.
Another reason: The day The Alchemist’s Kitchen appeared on my doorstep I
had an experience that will stay with me forever concerning the power of
poetry. A woman I know was at my house when the boxes arrived. She told me she wasn’t smart enough to understand poetry. I responded by reading her a poem from the book: “At Middle Life: A Romance.” It was a spontaneous action. When I finished reading, she touched her hand to her heart and told me what was already clear. She was moved. She said, “I inserted something of my own experience into the poem. I felt it.”
Q: Which writers are among your main influences?
A: When I first began to take my writing seriously, I took the poet Elizabeth Bishop as my dead poetry mentor. I read all the poems, the letters, the biography and critical essays. I wanted to learn everything I could about her life and work. She’s still my touchstone, still somewhere in my poems (I hope!) but more recent influences include Federico Garcia Lorca, Olena Kalytiak Davis, Carolyn Forche, and Charles Wright.
Q: How is The Alchemist’s Kitchen different than your other two books?
A: Well, with a first book, there’s usually many years for the poet to work on making it the best it can be. Often, and this was true with The Cartographer’s Tongue, the poems span a ten-year period. This often insures that only the best poems are published. With the second book, the sophomore attempt, the book usually garners much less attention. It’s compared to the first book and never fully comes out of that shadow — especially (and this was true in my case) if the first book did very well.
So there’s a belief among many poets I know that the third book is where a poet comes of age. By now, the poet’s obsessions and ideas have become more apparent. I’ve tried in The Alchemist’s Kitchen to push myself into new realms. For example, the middle section of the book is called “Transformation” and is comprised of a poem sequence on the life and photographic work of Myra Albert Wiggins, the first Northwest woman to make her living as a photographer. Conducting historical research and writing poems from photographs was new to me and forced me into unexpected areas of creativity. I found myself writing poems I hadn’t ever expected to write. I found myself taking on the inner life of a woman who lived in the 19th century.
I think this book contains my best work, but it will be up to readers to decide this for themselves.
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