Your Peace Corps Story In The Libraries of Our World

Thanks for the ‘heads up’ suggestions from Steve Kaffen (Russia 1994-96)


by John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962-64)

I was doing my daily browsing in my home town library and on the library’s giveaway shelf was a perfect copy of Papa: Hemingway in Key West 1928-1940 by James McLendon. Tucked inside this Popular Library paperback (which, by the way, sold for 95 cents when it was published in 1972) was an article on Hemingway from the April 12, 1999 Newsweek magazine. The article was about the publication of True at First Light, the last writings of Papa, edited by his son Patrick.

I also picked up off the shelf The Sportswriter, a novel by the Pen/Faulkner winning writer Richard Ford. Beside it was a collection of short stories, The Next New World, by one of my favorite Peace Corps writers, Bob Shacochis, Eastern Caribbean 1975-76.

None of them was stamped as a library book; they had all been given to the library. They were stacked on the giveaway shelf, next to the small cafe that sold snacks and coffee and where I often celebrated a successful day of browsing. The café was located in front of an art exhibition of high school end-of-year art work.

The books on the giveaway shelf may have outlived their book jackets and their shelf life in the library, but they were special books for me. I grew up with many of them! A novel by John P. Marquand, a writer I read when I was eleven or twelve. I loved his famous book, Point of No Return. And have you read Hamilton Basso? His The View From Pompey Head was published in 1954, just as I was turning 17.

Then there was The Ninth Wave, published in 1956, by Eugene Burdick. It won the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award. Burdick, as you may know, was the co-author, with William Lederer, of The Ugly American, the novel that launched the Peace Corps.

I might add to that list other Peace Corps books being given away. The Zinzin Road, a novel about the early days of Volunteers in Liberia published in 1966 and written by Fletcher Knebel, co-author of Seven Days in May. I have half a dozen copies at home. Don’t ask me why. Knebel, an early free lance evaluator for the agency, came back from his only Peace Corps evaluation trip in West Africa to write this best-selling novel about the first Liberian Volunteers.

These days, books finding their way onto the giveaway shelves are often best sellers, extra copies that don’t have jackets and may have coffee stains.

So for the sake of history, write your book. Tell your Peace Corps story. Get it published. Whether the reader finds it on Amazon or on the library shelf or the giveaway shelf, you’ll be sharing with others an important part of your life, and American history. Who knows how reading your book, learning your story, will change the life of a young reader, introduce her or him to the developing world.

If I find a copy of your book on the giveaway shelf of my local library, I’ll take it, bring it home, show it off, and make a donation to the library in your name. Then I’ll give your memoir to someone looking for an important book to read. Together–you and I–we’ll pass along the seed that will change her or his life when reading about a different world because of the book you wrote.


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  • Nice!! I remember reading the Ugly American in conjunction with hearing about the Peace Corps during my junior year in college. Or possibly start of senior year. Must have applied early 1962 at the same time i applied for a teaching position near Sacramento for the following fall, 1962.
    How different my life would have been if i had gone to Sacramento rather than Addis Ababa!

  • I looked up the date of publication of The Ugly American, Sue.

    The book was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post in the Fall of 1958, and came out as a Book of the Month Club selection in October.

  • Glenn. before he “left” NPCA, had been open to the idea of having a “reading library” or at least a shelf for donated books by Peace Corps authors in the new facility being built. Perhaps the Museum of Peace Corps Experience might do that. I think seeing a physical collection of books is powerful!

    But I also like the idea of donating Peace Corps books to libraries all over.

    • Glenn and I have donated $ 20,000 ear-marked for Peace Corps Place. I hope NPCA will be more transparent about current finances so that I can be confident my money will be used as intended.

  • Yes, Cathy, let’s hope for more transparency on current finances and other matters.
    You and Glenn are very generous.

    Thank you,
    Beverly Hammons
    RPCV Ecuador 1970-73

    • Thank you. It’s been difficult—-our Peace Corps service is integral to both of our identities and formed the trajectory of each of our lives—which is why we both were so invested in NPCA. Every day I am just so very sad at —and bewildered by—the events of June.

      However, we are heartened by all the support we have received—-texts, emails, phone calls, dinners and coffee, plus multiple home stay invitations from RPCVs. The community has truly surrounded us with support and encouragement. We communicate daily with literally dozens of RPCVs across the world. RPCVs are (for the most part) truly amazing individuals.

  • John, this is a beautiful arcticle. Particularly you sharing your Wonderful World of Books and your reminder that books of our Peace Corps experience plant seeds to grow the next generation of Volunteers.

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