Writers From the Peace Corps: The Lost Generation, Part Two

Peace Corps writers are like their predecessors in Paris in four ways.

1) Both groups wrote about, and explained to an American audience, the world of an expatriate. Hemingway wrote of Paris and Spain while Mark Brazaitis writes of Guatemala; Hemingway wrote of big game hunting in East Africa and Norm Rush writes of white racists in Southern Africa; Fitzgerald wrote of wealthy, bored Americans on the French Riviera and Simone Zelitch writes of survivors of the Holocaust leaving Hungary for Haifa. Other Peace Corps writers regularly find equally rewarding subject matter.

Paul Theroux writes of Indians in Kenya in his first novel set in Africa; Richard Wiley about Korea and Koreans; P. F. Kluge about islands in the sun in the Pacific; and Mark Jacobs, who was a Volunteer in Paraguay and a foreign service officer in his Peace Corps country as well as Turkey and Spain, has written about these places, and more.

2) Both groups include award-winning writers. A partial list of Peace Corps awardees includes:

      • Bob Schacochis, winner of the American Book Award in 1985;
      • Richard Wiley, winner of the Pen/Faulkner Award in 1986;
      • Kathleen Coskran, winner of the Minnesota Voices Prize in 1987;
      • Shay Youngblood, winner of both the Pushcart Prize for fiction and a Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award;
      • Melanie Sumner, winner of the Whiting Award in 1995;
      • Marnie Mueller, winner of the 1995 American Book Award;
      • Norm Rush, winner of the National Book Award in 1991;
      • Ann Neelon, winner of the Anhinga Prize for Poetry in 1995;
      • Mark Brazaitis, winner of the 1998 Iowa Short Fiction Award;
      • Peter Chilson, winner of the 1999 Associated Writing Program;
      • Kent Haruf, author of Plainsong (1999), a New York Times bestseller, and winner of, among others, the Regional Book Award in fiction from the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association, a Salon. Com Book Awards, and an Alex Award from the American Library Association.

3) Like the Lost Generation, the Beat Generation, and the Generation X-ers, Peace Corps writers have been widely anthologized. In 1991, Geraldine Kennedy’s Clover Park Press published fiction and non-fiction written by RPCVs in From the Center of the Earth, the first collection of Peace Corps writings. Scribner’s published Going Up Country: Travel Essays by Peace Corps Writers in 1994, and Curbstone Press published Living On The Edge: Fiction by Peace Corps Writers in 2000.

4) While we don’t have a bookstore as famous as Shakespeare & Co., with its big stove and tables and shelves of books where we could all gather for conversation and café au lait, we do have a website: peacecorpsworldwide.org, designed by RPCV Marian Haley Beil.

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