Interview with Darcy Munson Meijer – editor of new book of Gabon stories

I FIRST GOT TO KNOW Darcy Munson Meijer (Gabon 1982–84) through her wonderful Friends of Gabon quarterly newsletter, “The Gabon Letter.” Well now she has just edited a new Peace Corps Writers Imprint meier-darcycollection — Adventures in Gabon: Peace Corps Stories from the African Rainforest. It is a pleasure to be involved in a small way with the publication of this book of stories and to be able to preserve the writings by RPCVs that Darcy has lovingly and persistently kept publishing all these years.

Here’s what Darcy has to say about herself and the book of stories.

Darcy, what did you do in the Peace Corps?

I was a TEFL teacher in Gabon from 1982-84. Sadly, PC/Gabon closed in 2005.

What are you doing now?

I’m in the Middle East. I teach English to Emirati women in the academic bridge program at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates.

How did this collection come about?

Well, as you know, I’ve been editing the “Gabon Letter” — the quarterly newsletter of the Friends of Gabon — for the past ten years. I’m proud to say I built up the newsletter considerably, from a few pages to around 50. Readers are always interested in other people’s stories about Gabon, and many people, when pushed, will tell a few anecdotes. So I push people to contribute, and they do!

In almost every issue there are at least two great stories. My husband has been encouraging me for years to make a collection of the best stories, and I finally decided to do it. I turned 51 this year, which, I guess, has given me the shove I needed.

Why publish these essays in book form?

Many reasons. I was an English and French major. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, or at least an editor. My father was a newspaper editor. My biggest heroes are writers: Roald Dahl, Willa Cather, Wilfred Owen, Jhumpa Lahiri.

Apart from the personal, I thought these stories should be out in the world. So few people have heard of Gabon, and everyone thinks Peace Corps is dead. This collection sheds light on experiences that are fairly rare.

In the collection, how many writers are represented and over what years?

adventures-gabon-interMore than 30 writers are represented. That includes PCVs from the very first Gabon year — 1962 — until the last PCVs in country in 2005.

When you read them all, what did you come away with? What did the essays and stories tell you about the country and our PCV experience?

Gabon is a wild place, and we were very lucky to be there.

Okay, tell us what are your favorite stories?

First I’d say Bill Minter’s narrative “Bill, Bob and the Père.” Then I’d remember Andrew Herman’s “Concours d’Elégance.” And I couldn’t forget Terez Rose’s “Hot Date” or the excerpt from Eric Madeen’s book Tanga. I could vote for them all.

You know what I really loved about these stories? The voices that came through. Most of us went through the same basic experiences, but we all wrote about them in such different ways. I love that part of editing. It is almost as if everyone was in his or her own country.

What’s next for you and Gabon and the newsletter?

Well, I hope my family and I continue to enjoy living in the UAE. It’s a pleasant place to live, and we’re able to travel from here to so many interesting countries.

Gabon has had a new president, Ali Bongo, the son of previous president Omar Bongo, for the past several years. Some observers say that it’s political business as usual with him. Others say his environmental policy is better, and that he’s trying to include more commoners in the government. I don’t know.

I get a kick out of doing the newsletter, and it keeps me in touch with Gabon RPCVs and the greater PC community too, through Peace Corps Writers — you and Marian. Recently I’ve been asking readers to write about things they are interested in, that they feel passionate about, not just Peace Corps Gabon. In this last October issue, in fact, I got FOUR interesting articles like this: about scuba diving in Tanzania, presidential elections in Sao Tome, a harrowing plane flight to Naples, and an excerpt from a story about Moammar Qaddafi. It bodes well for the future of the newsletter!

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