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

More significant than similarities with the Lost Generation is an examination of why writers went overseas in the first place, and how they wrote about their expatriate world.

It is generally accepted that many members of the Lost Generation rebelled against what America had become by the 1900s: a business-oriented society where money and a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant work ethic dominated the culture. To these writers, America was not a “success story.” It was a country devoid of a cosmopolitan culture.

Following World War I, a segment of American writers sought to escape that rigid style of life and literature. Europe promised them a way out. Lost Generation writers wanted to be apart from America in terms of what they wrote, how they wrote, and where they wrote. These disenfranchised artists packed their bags and traveled to London and Paris in search of literary freedom and a more diverse way of life rich in new viewpoints and experiences.

The impulse of Peace Corps writers to join the agency is not so much to escape as to expand their world beyond the limits of what they find in America, and to develop new material from the experience of living in another culture. Like most Peace Corps Volunteers, writers have joined for a number of reasons, many of which they were not able even to articulate when they took their Peace Corps oath. Nevertheless, many of these “Kennedy Kids” carried with them portable typewriters (and now computers) on which to write the “Great Peace Corps Novel” while serving in the developing world.

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  • Many of us were denied the right to write a “journal” home to a local newspaper almost immediately because of the infamous “postcard” incident that you’ve written about. It’s not surprising. I published one article during training in 1968 and they came down on me at once.

    Later I wrote a “Peace Corps” novel in disguise (about Malawi)–“Courage,” from Norton–that did far better in England than here. I think, ultimately, much of America isn’t really interested in anything outside its borders, unless we’re sending big model airplanes to kill people there. Sadly. So sadly.

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