The 2017 Peace Corps Writers Awards for books published in 2016 were announced at the recent NPCA Conference. Marian Haley Beil and I were pleased and extremely fortunate to have Jane Albritton (India 1967-69) senior editor of four books of essays by RPCVs published by Travelers’ Tales/Solas House present the awards. Here are the 2017 Peace Corps Writers Award Winners. JC
For more about the awards and previous winners — CLICK
The Maria Thomas Fiction Award
JUDENSTAAT IS A NOVEL of vast historical imagination — also a fantasy engendered from grief, from love, and from the devastating particulars of Europe’s 20th century tragedy. Simone Zelitch’s page-turning alternate history is the uncanny precision with which she has deftly transformed the threads of actual events into the stunning new fabric of her novel. Judenstaat raises profound questions about the cost of the Zionist enterprise and reveals the dichotomies fracturing Jewish life — religious and secular, reactionary and reformist — in an attempt to engage with the larger question of what it means to be Jewish in a post-Holocaust world. A beautifully told, thoughtful and disturbing alternate history.
The Paul Cowan Non-Fiction Award
Dante Paradiso (Kenya 1993–95)
Beaufort Books, November 2016
IN 2003, LIBERIA WAS one of the most dangerous and isolated countries in the world. When an international court indicted Taylor for war crimes, the rebels attacked the capital and months of vicious fighting ensued. U.S. Ambassador John W. Blaney faced a terrible choice: abandon the mission or risk the lives of his team to give diplomacy a last chance
With Washington split on how to respond and pressure mounting to shutter the chancery once and for all, the Ambassador kept the flag flying. The U.S. embassy served as a rallying point for international efforts to save Liberia.
The Embassy is a graphic, cinematic retelling of the harrowing climax of the Liberian civil war and the U.S. and West African role in ending it. Dante Paradiso reconstructs the violence and chaos of those times to create an enduring portrait of a U.S. embassy under fire and the kind of daring frontline diplomacy that can change the fate of a nation.
The Award for Best Poetry Book
Sandra Meek (Botswana 1989–91)
Persea Books, May 2016
NEARLY TWENTY YEARS AFTER her time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana, Sandra Meek began traveling extensively through Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. Whether describing a Namibian baby seal hunt, 1500-year-old Welwitschia plants living off of fog in a desert studded with landmines, or the sandstone “temples” of Zion National Park, Meek’s poems attend to the endangered as well as the enduring, braiding personal narrative with those of the natural world from which they arise. At once nomadic and deeply rooted to place, An Ecology of Elsewhere interweaves a difficult past (personal and terrestrial) with an uncertain future.
The Award for Best Travel Book
by Kay Gillies Dixon (Colombia 1962–64)
Peace Corps Writers, October 2016
IN THE LATE 1970s, a contract for Kevin to work in Saudi Arabia came with family benefits and a lucrative travel package. The Dixons could not pack their bags fast enough. This was their opportunity to provide two fundamental values to their offspring — roots and wings.
During their travels, the Dixons chose to spend little time wandering through archaic cathedrals, but looked beyond featured attractions for experiences to imprint into their children’s memories.
Admittedly, successful globetrotting with young girls required patience and special considerations. Among them — always one daughter needed to use a bathroom, and never at a convenient time or place, and more often than not, it was the author who spent time searching for acceptable WCs or loos.
Kay narrates this story with finesse and descriptions that take you along on a journey that includes travel by many means and experiences that including meeting a Baba in Nepal, checking out a diamond shop in The Netherlands, and visiting a Maasai village in Kenya and more.
The Moritz Thomsen Peace Corps Experience Award
Emily C. Creigh (Paraguay 1975–77) and Dr. Martín Almada
Peace Corps Writers, February 2016
EMILY CREIGH LEARNED in November 1974 that she would spend the next two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay. And just days after Emily learned of her assignment, Martín Almada, doctor of education and director of a renowned school in Paraguay, became one of the first victims of Operation Condor, the US-backed secret accord among six Southern Cone countries in South America.
Journey to the Heart of the Condor is the true account of a Peace Corps Volunteer who shared the same ideals yet found themselves on opposite sides of a “dirty war” in South America. Based on her journals and letters, Emily’s poignant, often humorous coming-of-age story unfolds against the backdrop of the regime’s villainy, as related by Dr. Almada, now a renowned human rights defender.
Award for the Best Short Story Collection
Ron Arias (Peru 1963–65)
Arte Publico Press, September 2016
MANY OF THE PIECES in this collection take place in a Los Angeles neighborhood that used to be called Frog Town, now known as Elysian Valley. Most of the stories included in this volume were originally published in journals that no longer exist. Ron Arias, who served in Peru, is the author of an important novel — The Road to Tamazunchale — published during the Chicano literary movement of the 1970s, Arias is alsos one of the first to use magic realism and connect U.S. Hispanic literature to Latin American literature. This new book, The Wetback and Other Stories gathers together and makes available the short fiction of a pioneer in Mexican-American literature.
Editors Special Award
WRITTEN AFTER HAVING thirty years of teaching experience, Inclusion: The Dream and the Reality in Special Education, chronicles inspiring, insightful and even hilarious efforts to include students with disabilities in public schools. Can a faith healer cure autism? Why would a child eat a cigarette? What can the police do for a child who sucked his lips inside a soda can? Inclusion: The Dream and the Reality in Special Education reveals how these and other problems have been addressed by caring teachers from institutions to self-determination. If you have ever wondered what happens behind closed doors in special education, this is the book for you.