Politicis and Prose–Good Friends to Peace Corps Writers

When the 25th Reunion of RPCVs took place in Washington, D.C. in 1986, I wanted a book store to  sell the books written by RPCVs. I contacted Carla Cohen at her relatively new bookstore, Politics and Prose, up on Connecticut Avenue, and asked Carla if she would set up a table and sell books under the tent on the Mall at our reunion.

I was a nobody, our reunion was not important, but Carla loved the Peace Corps and she set up a table of books that I had recommended and featured Peace Corps writers for the very first time. Since then, Carla has always had a open door for Peace Corps writers. I have read in her famous book store, as as Norm Rush, Peter Hessler, Paul Theroux, Maureen Orth, Tony D’Souza and many, many others. Twice over the years I arranged Peace Corps readings at the store by Peace Corps writers. It always only took a telephone call to Carla and the magic words ‘Peace Corps writers’ to make the arrangement.

Times past and Carla and Barbaa Meade are selling the store and heading off to retirement. We know the store will continue–Washington, D.C., is a town full of readers–but these two grand women will be missed by all the friends they have made, by all the unknown writers they have featured.

And Peace Corps writers will miss them for this was a bookstore that valued our prose and poetry and the stories we had to tell. Politics and Prose always found a shelf for our novels, poems, and histories of the agency. Thank you, Barbara. Thank you, Carla. As we say in Amharic: betam amessegginallehu erdatawo keff yale no. (Thank you very much. Your help was great.)

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  • I’m sad to hear that they’re leaving. Carla was fabulous to me when My Mother’s Island came out. She went way out of her way, pushing the book at her store and getting me into other important venues. I’ll always be grateful to her. I’ve also been enormously admiring of what she’s accomplished over the years. Without her the American literary landscape and the contemporary canon would be much less vibrant. And she’s a truly nice person! Abrazos, Carla!
    Marnie

  • Is Politics and Prose the last independent bookstore left standing? Sometimes it seems that way. And what a fabulous bookstore! (It also sells music and CDs — and excellent coffee.) I’ve enjoyed the readings I’ve given, and the readings I’ve heard, at P & P. Thanks for supporting Peace Corps Writers.

  • I find it hard to imagine DC without Carla and Barbara promoting the titles they love and the ones they think their customers would love. I always felt fortunate to have them behind my work. As we say in Cameroon, “Ashiya” (thank you); “Ashiya-o” (farewell), and “Ashiya-ooooooo…” (so sad that you’re leaving). And if you whisper gently in someone’s ear, “Ashiya,” it means I love you.
    We all love you, Carla and Barbara.

  • Thanks to Carla and Barbara. I bet they made the major push that took FROM THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, edited by Geraldine Kennedy, to the best-seller list in D.C. when it came out.

    And yes, thank goodness, there is still an amazing independent bookstore in my neighborhood, Kepler’s in Menlo Park, California. See http://www.keplers.com/

    Finally, let’s give a rousing cheer for John and Marian for their decades of bringing beaucoup, beaucoup news of Peace Corps writers forward to us all.

    Una tenhki, tenhki.

  • Politics and Prose is my neighborhood bookstore, just a short distance from my house. For me it is a refugee and constant source of joy and enlightenment. Carla and Barbara will be missed when they finally sell. They do have a knack to pick unknown books and authors and giving them their moment on stage. Because they promote much more non-fiction than fiction, the store offers night after night of talks by authors of books on topics usually ignored by bigger stores. It’s a floating university of continuing education for my wife and me. Last August we went three nights in a row and found the place jammed (we thought everybody would be at the beach). .

    (Let’s be realistic about this. P&P is a business and Barbara and Carla are good marketeers. The nightly (and twice a day on weekends) talks by authors not only promote good books but also sell lots of books as the people who come to listen usually end up buying something, even if it is not the book of the author of the night. For us going to a P&P talk inevitably ends up being a $50 night on the town — and we are glad to support the store and its books, )

    But let’s not despair. Barbara and Clara are not about to sell the store to WalMart or shutter it forever. They say they will only sell to a responsible buyer, perhaps a group dedicated to preserving a cherished neighborhood–and national–icon. It’s been done before right in this area: neighbors here formed a non-profit group and bought the Avalon movie theater, a classic 1920’s 500 seat cinema which had been stripped and abandoned by a movie chain. We re-furbished it and it flourishes as a wonderful art movie center I hear similar talk about saving P&P, if it is necessary. And for those who say book stores are doomed in the flow of technology, remember the smart money said the same thing about movie theaters in the wake of Netflix and DVDs. Yet movie theaters thrive once again. Even ones showing good films. Fear not for P&P.

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