Coyne Calls It Quits

The first panel discussion I had for and about Peace Corps Writers was held in September 1986 under a huge tent on the Mall in Washington, D.C. at the 25th Anniversary of the Peace Corps.  That was twenty-eight years ago.

At the time we had several dozen RPCV writers who had established international reputations with their writings. Among them were Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963-65) who by that summer of ’86 had already published 20 books, including Great Railway Bazaar, published in 1975. This book “reinvented” travel writing. In 1986 Richard Wiley (Korea 1967-69) published Soldiers in Hiding, winner of that year’s PEN/Faulkner Award; Bob Shacochis (Eastern Caribbean 1975-76) first collection of stories, Easy in the Islands, won the ’86 National Book Award for First Fiction. His second collection, The Next New World, was awarded the Prix de Rome from the Academy of Arts and Letters; Kathleen Coskran (Ethiopia 1965-67) won the Minnesota Book Award for her collection of stories, The High Price of Everything; P.F. Kluge (Micronesia 1967-69) who wrote the WSJ article that became the film, “Dog Day Afternoon” would go onto write Eddie and the Cruisers that was also turned into a film. He is as well the author of a number of novels set in the Pacific Islands where he was a PCV. Mildred D. Taylor (Ethiopia 1965-67) author of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, had already won the 1977 Newberry Award.

The list is long of early successful RPCV writers: Laurence Leamer (Nepal 1965-67) Ascent: The Spiritual and Physical Quest of Willi Unsoeld; Peggy Anderson (Togo 1962-64) Nurse; Maria Thomas (Ethiopia 1971-73)Come To Africa And Save Your Marriage and Other Stories; Ron Arias (Peru 1963-65) The Road To Tamazunchale; Mary-Ann Tirone Smith (Cameroon 1965-67) The Book of Phoebe; Ed Smith (Ghana 1962-64) Where To, Black Man; George Packer (Togo 1982-83) The Village of Waiting; John Givens (Korea 1967-69) Sons of the Pioneers; Kent Haruf (Turkey 1965-67) The Tie That Binds; Philip Margolin (Liberia 1966-67) The Last Innocent Man; Paul Cowan (Ecuador 1966-67) The Making of an Un-American; Dick Lipez (Ethiopia 1962-64) Death Trick; Leonard Levitt (Tanzania 1963-65) An African Season; Bill Barich (Nigeria 1964-66) Laughing in the Hills; Suzy McKee Charnas (Nigeria 1961-63) The Vampire Tapestry; Thurston Clarke (Tunisia 1968) The Last Caravan; Mark Dintenfass (Ethiopia 1964-66) Make Yourself an Earthquake; Eileen Drew (Zaire 1979-81) BlueTaxis: Stories About Africa; Kinky Friedman (Borneo 1967-69) Greenwich Killing Time; Eric Lax (Micronesia 1966-68) On Being Funny: Woody Allen and Comedy. Etc.

As for myself! Well, by the fall of 1986 and the NPCA Conference, I had only published seven novels and not won any prizes! So I decided that if I couldn’t beat out other RPCV writers, well, I’d write about them!

Through the creative design genius of Marian Haley Beil (Ethiopia 1962-64) we established a quarterly newsletter RPCV Writers and Readers to track Peace Corps writers, review their books, and do a running commentary on successes and foibles of the Peace Corps. (Like all PCVs we had a lot to say.)

In July 1999 we morphed into a website, www.Peace Corps Writers.org and from there onto this ‘bigger’ site with other bloggers. We were hoping to create a “community of commentary” on books, international and Peace Corps issues, and how we were living our lives here and overseas.

To a limited degree we had some success.

As “self-publishing” became the new norm for publishing, as writers dismissed the gate-keeper editors and went out on their own to produce their own books, as well as, e-books, we decided to help “our” authors. Marian established our imprint: Peace Corps Books.

From the start, Marian and I have seen our efforts as a Third Goal Project. We finance the site and the awards for best books each year; we pay all the expenses. We do not make any money from the books that are produced under our imprint. All royalties go to the authors.

Occasionally Marian has received a “surprise” contribution from an RPCV, and we are thrilled and thankful to add that money to our small kitty.

We do all this because we believe that the books written by RPCVs are the best way to tell the Peace Corps story. In time, these books will be the only history of the movement in America called “The Peace Corps.” These books, and other writings, will capture a moment in time, not only for the PCVs, but also for nations where we  served. Already, we have seen great changes and development in many places (i.e. Korea) but there is, thanks to the writings of RPCVs, some stories of how these countries once were on the way towards development, and where we made small contributions with our two years of volunteering.

Now it is time, to remember why we joined the Peace Corps in the first place, and to pass the torch to a new generation.

I have decided to quit writing about Peace Corps writers and their books. Marian, however, will continue to manage the Peace Corps Writers imprint. Thank you, Marian.

As for www.peacecorpsworldwide.org its future is in the hands of Marian.

I am happy to report that Glenn Blumhorst (Guatemala 1988-91), President of the NPCA, has agreed to fold RPCV book reviews and book awards into the NPCA’s publications and website. More information will be coming from Glenn and Marian in the near future. Meanwhile, I’ll see that the awards for the best books published in 2013 are selected and announced this August.

As for myself. I have a novel coming out later this month, Long Ago And Far Away. It is my first one that focuses on the Peace Corps in Ethiopia.  I am also several hundred pages into a novel that has absolutely nothing to do with the agency. And I’m leaving for my favorite island, Menorca, in the early fall to do some travel writing and I should add, (as most indicted politicians would say about this time)…..”I want to spend more time with my family.”

Thank you for your support over these last 28 years.

Keep writing!

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49 Comments

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  • Thank you John for all you have given and shared with us over the years. Your commitment to the cause has been heroic and entertaining to say the least. Best wishes to you on the next chapter in your life, and I look forward to seeing your next novel. Thanks for everything!!! Laura Bayne Turner, RPCV DR 89-91

  • John, thanks so much for your long service to the Peace Corps volunteer community, especially to Peace Corps writers, whose works found a home and readers thanks to your efforts, also for the 50th anniversary luncheon at the Library of Congress, an unforgettable event. ¡Muchísimas gracias! Barbara E. Joe, Honduras, 2000-20003

  • John was our Area Rep on the Dessie(Ethiopia) road in 1966-67. Any of his charges on that road will tell you that he had no equal. His visits were among the high spots of our service. His service to all of us since then has been nothing less than heroic. His good humor, insight, and availabity have always been evident. Melkam idel, wendime.

  • Congratulations and much appreciation to you and Marian for the invaluable resource that you have been to the PC writers community and for your vision in making this project such an impactful Third Goal initiative. I am honored for the NPCA to have the opportunity to help carry the torch forward.

  • am not a writer, but a reader. I am one of the thousands of RPCVs who have benefitted from what you and Marian and all the writers have contributed. The first time i read the newsletter “Peace Corps Writers and Readers” I felt I had come home.

    Very best wishes for the future.

    Joanne Roll
    Colombia XI
    63-65

  • John,

    Thank you for all the time, talent, effort and money you and Maria have given to create a Peace Corps Literacy Community and a forum for an independent and honest discussion of Peace Corps.

    Joanne

  • John, your legacy to Peace Corps and RPCVs is priceless. I have followed your path to the best Peace Corps books over these many years, discovering Living Poor, The Ponds of Kalambayi, River Town, and White Man, among many others. More than anyone you have made the Peace Corps experience a richer and continuing adventure. Thank you. Many of us hold you in high esteem. Roger Landrum, Nigeria, 1961-1963.

  • Thank you, thank you, John, for all that you’ve done — for the Peace Corps in general, and for Peace Corps writers in particular. You’ve consistently kept things lively and relevant, and your ongoing soupçon of humor and mischief have kept every post compelling and enjoyable. We will miss you — but of course wish you a wonderful experience in your next act.

  • Thank you, John; I am so grateful. Your blogs and publishing through PCW have happily brought me back into the PC fold in many ways. With your prolific communications, you have buoyed my spirits, shown that there are many of us out there who still care–I was beginning to wonder. Good luck with your future endeavors, and enjoy Menorca. We will miss you!

  • Well, John, it’s been a wonderful run for you and the Peace Corps. And Roger above is right about your legacy: it’s priceless.

    Actually, I think your insight into the Peace Corps and its Third Goal (Bringing It Home) came earlier than you credit yourself.

    We were sharing a DC apartment way up on 16th Street in the early 70s. I can remember the conversation. We had co-authored This Way Out and were working on two more books when one day you were talking about some recent RPCV books and said something to the effect that RPCV country-of-service books might be the lasting contribution or Peace Corps service. And soon you and Marian took on the Third Goal that the Peace Corps itself had totally ignored.

    Since then, we have witnessed the Peace Corps become, in my view, an “inconsequential jewel box” but by gosh, the Peace Corps writers that you and Marian have assiduously mentored and promoted and recognized for decades have helped make the Peace Corps a lasting organization.

    While staffers and directors come and go with small or no contributions or useful policy initiatives, Peace Corps writers and their overseas adventure stories have become the essential keepers of the flame. Mostly, they are the Third Goal.

    Again, well done, sir.

    Oh, yes, Nutsmacker sends his regards. He says he finally got his revenge!

    Tom

  • I don’t believe for a minute you are quitting the Peace Corps world. Old RPCVs don’t fade away, they just change tactics. Great work so far. Great work to come. The Peace Corps community owes you many thanks.

  • There aren’t enough words to express the awesome contribution you’ve made in connecting RPCVs. So you’ve got to accept a long list of kudos:

    To you, John:

    Cheers, Sláinte, à votre santé, Prost, Gān bēi, and dozens of other deserving toasts.

    Na gode

  • Dear John, You and Marian have always been to important to RPCV writers like me. I recall your encouragement and support every time I look at my two publications. I’m grateful that Marian will continue the journey with us, and the NPCA will be involved with PC writers. Torn between sadness for us and gladness for you, I wish you great triumphs in your own writing career and contentment with your family.

    Leita

  • John while not a writer myself I always enjoyed reading about the accomplishments of this unique band of authors. You and Marian have done what no others did. You put a spot light on PC Writers and gave all of us a forum to comment about their accomplishments. It was a personal gift to all of us and for that you have crated a legacy you both can be very proud of.

  • John: We have known each other since our Peace Corps days in Ethiopia in 1962-1964. You have always been the best of all the volunteers and have exemplified the personal character in each of us which has made not only the Peace Corps what it has been and is but what each of us has become. Now, a word to the wise. If you are going to do travel books, make sure you visit St. Petersburg, the crown jewel of all Eurpoean cities, full of history and “soul” and many wonderous sites.

  • John, you certainly have left a legacy and carried the Kennedy torch for many many decades. You have touched thousands of lives with your own stories and sharing those of others. The Peace Corps community could not be more proud of all that you have done voluntarily to serve all of the readers and writers. We owe you many thanks and our gratitude. Here’s to a virtual toast to John Coyne!

  • Best of luck on your new novel. I don’t even try to imagine how you
    do all you do, but I add my thanks for your majestic contributions.

  • You’re irreplaceable, John — a great writer, mentor, leader, and friend. Your work and work ethic are extraordinary! The Peace Corps is lucky to have you. So are we all.

    Mark

  • John — you’re a wonder, and what you have done has been wonderful. I kind of thought you’d last forever. What does it say on the warranty? Best of luck and health — Allen

  • thanks, john, for the support, the advice, the good company. more than once, a comment from you, a suggestion, a mere mention has made my day. all the best to you. if you’re near kenyon college…my house is yours. p.f. kluge

  • John, your contribution to the Peace Corps and its writers is immeasurable. I will, however, miss the repartee about the first volunteers.

    Many thanks, muchisimas gracias y merci beaucoup. You made a difference and that’s what the Peace Corps is all about.

    Reinaldo

  • John…Cliff said thanks for what you have done for Peace Corps Writers…I would like to add; thanks for what have done for Peace Corps and the Volunteers! Some may say that your first love is Golf, I say it is Peace Corps! If Peace Corps should need you, I know you will be there, right?
    Time to do a second edition of Going Up Country…my brother Ron (Peru 1963-65) and I wish you and your family the best…I wish you well my friend and Thanks from the Peace Corps family!
    Bob Arias
    Peace Corps Response Volunteer
    Panamá, 2009-2010
    Paraguay, 2010-2011
    Colombia, 2011-2013
    Panamá, 2013-2014
    RPCV Colombia 1964-1966

  • You opened our hearts to the world through the eyes and voices of those who were there. Your work and vision for bringing those voices to the attention of both the Peace Corps community and to readers everywhere has been priceless. And always, with that John Coyne charm! You are one in a million, my friend. Thank you, John!

  • Thanks for everything, John. Not the least of which was when I first contacted you (pre-email I believe) and you informed me that I wasn’t the first Peace Corps Volunteer who had the idea to write about his or her Peace Corps experiences. I was humbled reading through the bibliography list of PCV writers and their works. Glad to be at least a small part of it.

  • It is very simple, John, and very sincere: THANKS! many times over. You’ve done a splendid job.
    Best to you in your continuing and new ventures, books, travels, and your favorite sport: golf!!
    Go for it — your next hole in one!

  • John,
    There may be many Peace Corps writers but they have only one godfather. As Dick Lipez noted those many years ago, you have shepherded a “sub, sub genre” into American letters.

    I have never forgotten your one firm admonition when I asked for your advice in publishing “From the Center of the Earth, Stories Out of the Peace Corps.” And I quote – “Never, Never use the words Peace Corps in the title, it’s the kiss of death.” And the rest is history!

    Thank you friend for providing a home and introducing us to each other until we became this community of writers like no other.

    Godspeed,
    Geraldine

  • John, as a reader, not a writer …. just want to say thanks and tell you that you will certainly be missed on the “Writers” blog …. happy to see that the effort will, however, continue in good hands ….. sure hope that you will keep up with the “Babbles” blog … such a great way to get Peace Corps news — old and new ….. if not, who will carry on with it??

  • Congratulations, John. Many thanks to you for giving passionate voice to issues of concern to the Peace Corps community for so many years and for introducing us to countless other voices that so eloquently illuminate what it means to serve through your Peace Corps Writers. Your work on behalf of the Third Goal has truly been extraordinary. Thank you for your insight, your guidance, your criticism and your fervent commitment to the mission of Peace Corps. You will be missed. Best wishes as you embark on new adventures.

  • Dear John,
    All the extraordinarily grateful and appreciative comments already posted say it all. And I am sure the many more still to come will echo the same marvelous sentiments.
    It’s been my great pleasure to know you for your impressive and unrelenting commitment, your dedication, your talent, your persistence, your constancy, your straight-from-the shoulder candor, your love of Peace Corps, and your inspiration to all of us.
    I think that your thousands of blogs will stand as bricks in a towering monument to you.
    I wish you the best as a novelist and travel writer. I am confident you will succeed. How could you not? Your impressive past assures a brilliant prologue.
    ~~ From one of your countless Peace Corps authors.

  • John – people will look back on what you have done and value it even more than we who are “inside” do now. You have, in effect, created an archive of Peace Corps history in bringing this writing to the front and blogging about it. Very grateful to you, and have fun in your new avatar.

    Thanks to Marian!

    Tina
    Zaire ’73-’75

  • Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye! While that’s not exactly true, we sure shall miss ye. our soldier of peace and community creator. Please promise to send an occasional email to soften this period of withdrawal. Luxuriate in this time for yourself and your work; you’ve earned it many times over. My best, Marnie

  • Wishing you all the best, John. You deserve a rest and more time to focus on your own writing! In the past years, PC Writers has been a terrific resource for me to learn about books by fellow RPCVs and to connect with some of them as fellow writers on a personal level. I sure hope it continues in some kind of iteration in the future. Thanks for all you’ve done and thanks to Marian for all she continues to do!

  • John,

    I have really enjoyed getting to know you through your writings and blog posts. I have learned so much and discovered such great books through your efforts. I have recently purchased a Kindle and enjoy filling it up with RPCV titles. I can’t wait to get your latest book about Ethiopia.

    Best of luck to you and thanks so much for all you have done.

    Erik
    Guatemala 88-90

  • Whoa–just saw this! Thank you SO much for this site, and the chance to put up my humble musings. I’ve enjoyed reading the books and blogs of other Peace Corps writers, and your very interesting “rants,” and I certainly hope the site continues in some form or other.

    But I understand your need, after all this time, to move on. Just know that what you’ve built is greatly appreciated, and that–whatever happens on these virtual pages–you have enriched the lives of many fellow volunteers. A Dios, John. And Muchas gracias!

    Sue O’Neill

  • “A writer has to be true to himself and let the chips fall where they may.” — JFK.

    John Coyne has been true to himself in every facet of his life, and so, the zillions of us who have benefited from those falling chips, learning what counts and what doesn’t, salute you. You’re my hero, John.

    Please, please let us keep you company along the road ahead–keep us posted.

  • haven’t known John for nearly as long as many of you. But in the short time that I have, he has been an invaluable source of information – information peppered with wisdom, perspective and humor. I made a documentary film called WAGING PEACE:The Peace Corps Experience. As I did my research, reading and talking with RPCVs, it didn’t take long before the suggestions all led to Pelham Manor and the College of New Rochelle – the home of babbles and Peace Corps writers. I feel very fortunate to have benefitted from his knowledge of Peace Corps history and opinions about the agency. I was just a little surprised how long it took to “wrest” these opinions from him.
    Thank you.

    I use a letter from John in the 71-minute documentary, along with the letters, journals, emails and blogs from many RPCVs. But on the DVD, apart from the documentary, I have a separate 37:00 interview with John about the Peace Corps itself and Peace Corps writers. If you are interested in learning more about this (or purchasing the DVD), please contact me at allen@mediaprojects.org

  • I have used Peace Corps Writers selfishly as encouragement and incentive to pursue my own writing projects. What John has done has been a great service. I sure hope Marian and/or others will keep it going.
    All best John in your future endeavors. — Lesser, Nigeria IX

  • “Kili kan soso; o te se ka gosi, o te se ka to yan.”

    This wise Malian proverb cautions that “if a mosquito lands on your testicle — you can’t hit it — and you can’t leave it there…”

    And so, dear John, u have gotten under our skin lo these years and now we don’t know what to do…, w’allahi.

    But thank God for the incomparable Marian & for NPCA stepping in.
    And no matter what, you’ll ALWAYS have (Ethiopian) coffee in this town, my dear.

    Hugs from Kitty Thuermer, Mali 77-79

  • I feel like a person at the office who gets a colleague’s farewell card after others have already written their thoughts and wishes, not sure what to add to what others have already said so eloquently. Well, thanks, John, for your unfailing passion and commitment to the Peace Corps, for inspiring us to share our stories over the years. You inspired me to submit a few short pieces when laziness might otherwise have prevailed. Thanks for being (as proclaimed) a romantic, and for not giving in to cynicism or bitterness, that can be ever so tempting as one grows older. In reading the obits for Charlie Haden, the bass player who died last Friday, more than one refers to him as a romantic, which puts you in pretty great company. In a Fresh Air interview with Terri Gross, Haden once described his role as bassist as “lifting everyone up”–meaning the other musicians in whatever group he was in. Listening to his many wonderful CDs (check out any of the Quartet West albums or his duets with Hank Jones in particular) you hear how he always supports musicians, never getting in their way, or ever stealing anyone’s thunder. Thanks, John, for lifting us all up, for inspiring and supporting us, reminding us to tell our stories and stay true to our passions. All best to you and keep touch!

    Bill Preston, Thailand 1977-80

  • John, thank you so much for everything — for providing earnest encouragement, a platform for my “Letters from Romania” and welcomed, blunt advice along the way.

    That was my personal thanks. But the entire Peace Corps community owes you (and Marian) a debt of gratitude for your work and legacy.

    Enjoy the golf, Menorca and best of luck with your travel writing and books. If we could all be so prolific!

    All the best,
    Andy Trincia
    Romania 2002-2004

  • I would like to second Tony D’Souza’s formal objection to this decision. Just how, I ask, can an anchor pull up and sail away? John, you were the anchor for the Peace Corps at 50 story project. When the idea to produce four books of Peace Corps stories was just a twinkle in Siva’s third eye, I was sure that we needed your imprimatur, your “let it be printed.” And you gave us that encouragement, along with your splendid forward: Thirty Days that Built the Peace Corps.” I am forever grateful. (Plus you and Marian somehow coaxed RPCVs Patti and John Garamendi (D-CA) into hosting a luncheon for Peace Corps Writers AT the Library of Congress on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary. Who else is going to work that kind of magic? Don’t go!) Aloha nui loa, Jane

  • I must follow Jane who followed Tony and all the others in tune singing your praises, and Marian’s also, for joyfully lifting this enterprise of mapping the writings returned peace corps volunteers publish. It is
    amazing work when I think of the daily focus that must dance alongside the daily concerns of your own writing and family lives. Rock on.

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