Peter Chilson (Niger 1985–87) Writes About Mali

The world news is full of stories of ‘what’s happening in Mali?’ from the French airstrikes, to the Islamist rebels taking over of Mali capturevillages, to the US involvement, to the 3,300 soldiers from other West African nations who are now fighting alongside the Malian Army.

The Op-Ed page of The New York Times this morning (January 15, 2013) has an essay entitled, “Why We Must Help Save Mali” written by Vicki Huddleston, the U.S. ambassador to Mail from 2002-2005, and a former deputy assistant secretary in the State and Defense Departments.

Luckily for RPCVs we have our own expert, Peter Chilson (Niger 1985-87), who teaches creative writing at Washington State University and writes about West African, and lately about Mali. Here’s a  blurb for his new book on the nation. The book is entitled, We Never Know Exactly Where.

“What happens when a country suddenly splits in two? In 2012, Mali, once a poster child for African democracy, all but collapsed in a succession of coups and countercoups as Islamist rebels claimed control of the country’s north, making it a new safe haven for al Qaeda. Prizewinning author Peter Chilson became one of the few Westerners to travel to the conflict zone in the following months to document conditions on the ground. What he found was a hazy dividing line between the uncertain, demoralized remnants of Mali’s south and the new statelet formed in the north by jihadi fighters, who successfully commandeered a long-running rebellion by the country’s ethnic Tuareg minority to turn Mali into a new frontier in the fast-morphing global war on terror. Chilson’s definitive account — the first in the new Borderland series of ebooks from Foreign Policy and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting — is a gripping read, taking us back to the founding of French West Africa and right to the very front lines of this contentious new flash point.”

We’re having the book reviewed by another African expert (it will be posted in a month or so) but meanwhile you can check it out at: Foreign Policy Magazine. The book sells as an ebook for $4.99. The item number is: EbookWNKEWpeter-chilson

Peter Chilson

Peter Chilson got his MFA in creative writing from Pennsylvania State University in 1994 and teaches writing and literature at Washington State University. His essays, journalism and short stories have appeared in Foreign Policy, The American Scholar, The North American Review, Audubon, Ascent, Creative Nonfiction, Clackamas Literary Review, Gulf Coast, Rain City Review, West Africa, North Dakota Quarterly and elsewhere. Chilson’s book, Riding the Demon (University of Georgia Press 1999) won the Associated Writing Programs Award in nonfiction. His second book, Disturbance-Loving Species: A Novella and Stories (Mariner Books 2007), won the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Bakless Fiction Prize and the Maria Thomas Fiction Prize. His reporting has been supported by a Fulbright grant and the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. His work has twice appeared in the Best American Travel Writing anthology (the 2003 and 2008 issues) and other collections of creative nonfiction.

In 1985, Chilson went to West Africa. He taught junior high school English in Bouza, a village in southern central Niger, near the border with Nigeria. Later he was a reporter for the Associated Press in Hartford, CT. He is a former associate editor of High Country News, the magazine that covers public lands issues in the American West. Email contact:

Samples of his work can also be found on Chilson’s website at

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