PEACE CORPS WRITERS is pleased to announce that Madness Under the Royal Palms: Love and Death Behind the Gates of Palm Beach by Laurence Leamer (Nepal 1965-67) has won the 2010 Paul Cowan Non-Fiction Award for the outstanding non-fiction book published by a Peace Corps writer during 2009. Leamer will receive a framed certificate and a prize of $200.
Laurence Leamer has had a lifelong career as a freelance writer following a one-year stint as an associate editor at Newsweek. His first book, The Paper Revolutionaries: The Rise of the Underground Press [Simon & Schuster 1972], was written with a grant from the Twentieth Century Fund. Upon publication, Leamer left New York City to live in a trailer park in Lanark, West Virginia where he worked in a coal mine and wrote an article for Harper’s about his experience. That led to other assignments for the magazine including covering the war in Bangladesh that resulted in an article that won an award from the Overseas Press Club in the category of best magazine article of the year.
Leamer’s second book, Playing for Keeps in Washington [Dial Press 1977], was on the New York Times list as a notable book of the year. After its publication, Leamer moved to Peru where he wrote his first and only novel, Assignment [Dial Press 1981], about the cocaine traffic. Upon returning to the States, he wrote Ascent: The Life of Willi Unsoeld [Simon & Schuster 1982, Harper Perennial 1999], about the Everest climber and philosophy professor who had been director of Peace Corps Nepal. Leamer next wrote Make-Believe;The Story of Nancy and Ronald Reagan [Harper & Row 1983], the first book to deal with the Hollywoodization of Ronald Reagan and how that affected his presidency. Leamer followed that book with As Time Goes By: The Life of Ingrid Bergman, [Harper & Row 1986], and King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson [Morrow 1989], a controversial bestseller about Johnny Carson.
The Carson biography led to his most famous book, The Kennedy Women [Random House 1994], a multigenerational study that took five years to write and fifteen years after publication it is still widely available. He followed that by pursuing his love of country music in Three Chords and the Truth: Behind the Scenes with Those Who Make and Shape Country Music [Harper Collins 1997] before returning to the Kennedy family with The Kennedy Men: 1901–1963 [William Morrow & Co 2001] and Sons of Camelot: The Fate of An American Dynasty [William Morrow & Co. 2004], completing the trilogy. He then moved to California to write his next book — about a Kennedy son-in-law, Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger [St. Martins Press 2005].
In the Early ’90s Leamer went to Palm Beach for the first time when he was researching The Kennedy Women. He found the city to be the strangest place he had ever been, and he decided to buy a place there and learn enough to write a book. That took a decade and a half before he wrote Madness Under the Royal Palms: Love and Death Behind the Gates of Palm Beach [Hyperion 2009] and it became his fifth New York Times bestseller. The book was so controversial that the police chief suggested to him that he should have security, and while he was driving in the area his car was run off the road. Celebrated in some quarters and condemned in others, it is a revealing, intimate look at the wages of wealth.
After the book’s publication, Leamer took a few months off to work full-time pushing the White House and Congress to fulfill President Obama’s pledge to double the size of the Peace Corps. He also is a longtime volunteer at the Lord’s Place, a nonprofit dealing with the homeless in Palm Beach County.
Leamer lives with his wife Vesna in Washington, D.C. and Palm Beach. He has a daughter Daniela and two grandchildren, Alejandro and Emilia. Leamer is in Serbia and Montenegro for most of the summer. When he gets back, he will be return to working on a new book project.
As a PCV Laurence Leamer taught English, health and science in a remote Nepalese mountain village two days from a road. Last summer after four and a half decades, Leamer returned there and was reunited with twenty of his former students. What the students remembered best was the Christmas party Leamer give in December 1965 for all the villagers including the untouchables.
When Leamer left the village at the end of his two-day visit, he met on the trail a young man returning to Kathmandu to study for a bachelor’s degree. The young man said he was an untouchable and his father had attended the Christmas party.
In 1966 Leamer won a Ford Fellowship in International Development which he used at the University of Oregon to study for a master’s degree in International Affairs. While there he wrote his first published article for the university alumni magazine about what it was like being a former Volunteer opposed to the war in Vietnam.
In 1968, Leamer was named an International Fellow at Columbia University where he received a master’s degree in Journalism, graduating second in his class. His website is at www.Leamer.com
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