The only RPCV book that focuses exclusively on Peace Corps Training–that I know about– is Alan Weiss’ (Nigeria 1963-64) High Risk/High Gain published in 1968 by St. Martin’s Press. It is Alan’s account of training at Columbia University in the summer of 1963. It is a funny, outrageous, and a sad book.
In his book, Alan focuses on the elaborate system ‘someone’ at the Peace Corps had created, a series of rating from High Risk/Low Gain to Low Risk/High Gain. All of the PCVs in those early years was so graded in our Peace Corps Training report card. A year after my tour in Ethiopia I returned to Addis Ababa as an APCD. In the office files, in the old Point Four building, I discovered in a bottom file cabinet drawer a copy of how the psychologists back in Georgetown Training had evaluated all of us, the first PCVs to Ethiopia. I went down the long list of some 275 PCVs and found my name and my rating. It surprised me. I hadn’t thought the shrinks were watching me that closely.
Alan Weiss was classified as High Risk/High Gain. He didn’t have a happy time in Training, or really much of a happy time in Africa. On the last page, he writes, “The sick circus of training behind us, we would go to Africa.”
Weiss was a troubled soul who had as many enemies as he had friends and he lasted about a year in Nigeria, then ETed so that he could marry the girl he left behind in Chicago. He never published another book besides his tale of Peace Corps Training, though he tried to be a writer and published a few short piece. He also started work on a book about Nigeria.
Years after the Peace Corps, years after he was married, he was a writer-in-residence at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in Middlebury, Vermont. While there he read a piece he had written about attending a lecture by Malcolm X while he was in Nigeria. He wrote later, “about 100 people listened to my reading and it got an electrified response. Rocking response.”
Late one night while at Breadloaf he drove into town and had an accident. He smashed his van into a bridge abutment. The van was totaled and he went into a coma. He recovered, seemed normal, but after a few months he became manic. He then became depressed. Nine months later on March 10, 1971 he shot a bullet through his heart. He was 33.