Susan Meadows Luccini (Ghana 1961–63) is a personal historian. Since her very early days in the Peace Corps, with the first group of PCVs, she has been a high school and university English teacher and writing coach, as well as a publisher. She has worked as a writer, editor and proofreader. Besides all that, she has translated a number of books for children as well as several dealing with art, archaeology and history from Italian to English. Today she runs SML Publishing that she started in 2005. This a s perfect job for Susan as it combines her “skills, wit, personal strengths and inclinations.” She has had a lifelong interest in people, in their stories and in the process by which memories are retained.
We asked Susan to write us a short article about the importance of writing your Peace Corps story.
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You And Your Peace Corps History
Have you noticed the recent surge of interest in both public and personal history? Think of Story Corps (over 16,000 interviews), the Veterans’ Project (60,000), the Latino Immigrant Project and our own Peace Corps Archives (currently with over 300 interviews but with a goal of 3000 before 2011), to give just a few examples. The urgency that individuals and institutions feel to preserve their heritage goes far beyond the superficial “look at us and what we’ve done.” Its motivation is three-fold: to explore the dusty corners of our memories, to look at the whole picture, and to leave some sense of who we were in the specific historical period in which we lived.
As an interviewer for the RPCV Archival Project,, I constantly hear ex-volunteers speak about their Peace Corps days as turning points, transformative experiences, new directions. While some of us may have joined to avoid the draft, get out of a bad relationship, or travel to exotic places, the reality of our experience-the getting so much more than we gave and learning so much more than we could imagine-eventually pushed our shallower selves into the shadows.
For my work, I read a number of memoirs as well as books about writing personal history. Many of these books offer memory/writing exercises that have quite literally given my mind a workout, opening it up, making it ready to re-member memories. Now here is something curious. Suddenly a memory totally unrelated to what I am writing about is likely to pop up. This morning, as I was putting the towels in the dryer, I remembered being at summer camp with my best friend when we were thirteen or fourteen years old. We had quarreled and were not speaking to each other. This was so rare-perhaps it had never happened before-as to be remarkable. We were standing side by side at the sink after breakfast brushing our teeth when I (accidentally?) spit on her hand. We immediately burst out laughing and made up.
Well, you may say, so what? Other memories tag along with that one-long summer days at the lake, Coppertone, tennis, card games, Ouija boards, Nancy Drew, a dawning awareness of boys-all of what it meant to be young and alive in 1952. This memory is also part of a thread, a pattern in my life, of avoiding quarrels and not holding a grudge.
Does this mean that I’m living in the past? Well, that’s not what I would call it. It’s visiting the past. And, paradoxically, visiting the past makes us more aware of the present moment. As we remember sights, smells, sounds, and tastes from the past, our senses become more attuned to what is happening now.
Let me encourage you to record your personal history. Unless you try, you will never understand how beneficial it can be. If you would like to start with an interview about your days in the Peace Corps, contact Bob Klein at email@example.com for an interviewer who lives near you. If you would like to write your memoirs, there are numerous books and, in most geographical locations, workshops to help you get started. If you have any questions, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whatever you do, don’t wait. You can’t take your memories with you. Your family and friends want to hear from you. And you need to hear from yourself, all of you. Good luck and best wishes as you go forward in this exciting adventure.