Peace Corps Writers
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Literary Type
  “Kariuki’s Notebook” by Rick Gray (Kenya 1988–90) had a successful run at LaMaMa E.T.C. Playhouse in New York City from February 22 to March 11th. Reviewing the play for New York Theatre Wire, Melinda Given Guttmann’s wrote, “‘Kariuki’s Notebook’ is a profound, imaginative structuring of an autobiographical ‘peak’ experience.” The play, which is a finalist in the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, was directed by Sonoko Kawahara, a Japanese director and a classmate of Gray’s at the Hammerstein Theater Center at Columbia University. The chorus from the Harlem School of the Arts performed in the play.
     LaMaMa, located on the Lower East Side of New York has, for 39 years, been home to the innovative expressions of cross-cultural experiences. Among those who have worked at LaMaMa in their formative years are Bette Midler, Robert DiNiro, Sam Shepard, and Billy Crystal. Gray’s play was dedicated to Ellen Steward, the artistic director at LaMaMa, who opened her theatre in 1961.
Louisa The National Foundation for Jewish Culture’s Samuel Goldberg and Sons Foundation Prize of $2000 for Jewish Fiction by Emerging Writers has been won by Simone Zelitch (Hungary 1991–93) for her novel Louisa. The award includes a one week residency at Ledig House Writer’s Colony.
  Endangered Species: Writers Talk about their Craft, Their Art, Their Vision, by Larry Grobel (Ghana 1968–71) with a foreward by Robert Towne and interviews with such writers as Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, and Neil Simon, comes out this June from Da Capo Publishing. This is Grobel’s 6th book to come out since November of 1999. Besides doing interviews for such publications as Playboy, he is teaching a course in the English Department of UCLA on how to survive a BA in English.
Rob Davidson (Grenada 1990–92), who served with his wife on the island of Carriacou, and who is now a doctoral candidate in American literature at Purdue University, just published his first book, a collection of stories entitled Field Observations. A number of these stories have appeared in literary magazines over the years. “Inventory” appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review and won the 1997 Intro Journals Project Award from the Associated Writing Programs.
   In the June issue of Harper’s Magazine is a new short story “Sabo” by Bob Shacochis (Eastern Caribbean 1975-76). Schacochis is a contributing editor to Harper’s.
     In the May issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Jeffery Tayler (Morocco 1988–90; PC Staff/Poland 1992, Uzbekistan 1992–93) writes in an article entitled, “Russia Is Finished” about the Russia he knows, “I made Moscow my home. I married a Russian. My life — as much as it can be, given that I carry an American passport — is Russian. . . . But having devoted half my life to this country, and having lived . . . through most of its ‘transition,’ I have arrived at a conclusion at . . . odds with what I thought before: Internal contradictions in Russia’s thousand-year history have destined it to shrink demographically, weaken . . . economically, and, possibly, disintegrate territorially. The drama is coming to a close, and within a few decades Russia will concern the rest of the world no more than any Third World country with abundant resources, an . . .  impoverished people, and a corrupt government. In short, as a Great Power, Russia is finished.”
Serendib On June 12th, Jim Toner (Sri Lanka 1988–90) begins an extensive reading tour of the U.S. to promote his book, Serendib. Part of Jim’s summary of the book:

    Serendib is centered around my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer . . . . While I was there my father, a retired judge from Cleveland, decided on a whim to come pay me a visit. At that time Sri Lanka was the world’s deadliest country and the second poorest, and even more daunting to me was that, as the youngest of seven children, I had never been alone with this man in my entire life. And so he came, and there we were, face to face for 700 uninterrupted hours in this exotic and terrifying country.

Check out his schedule — most likely his is coming to your city or town!

The May/June issue of Poets & Writers Magazine carries a long essay by poet, editor, and freelance writer Ethan Gilsdorf entitled, “The Expatriate Writer in Paris” and quotes Shay Youngblood (Dominica 1981) about living and writing in Paris. Says Shay, “Paris seemed to be the kind of place that, if you were a writer or artist, there was something in the air that could transform you.”
Paul Theroux’s (Malawi 1963-65) latest novel, Hotel Honolulu, is his 24th book of fiction (he has also published 13 books of nonfiction, all in the three and a half decades since his Peace Corps years.) Reviewed in The New York Times Book Review on Sunday, May 13th by Sven Birkerts and in the May 16th “Books of the Times” section by Richard Bernstein, who writes, “As always, Mr. Theroux writes with both energy and grace. He is like a figure skater who amazes his audience with the Mozartian ease of his twirls and jumps. Even when he is not at the top of his form, his stylistic brilliance, his knack for absurdist, targeted entertainment and his extraordinary ear for a brimming basket of idioms make him one of the most impressive living American writers.”
River Town River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler (China 1996–98) continues to get great reviews. In the Washington Post on Sunday, April 15, John Byron wrote on the book, “In language that is by turns lyrical, reflective and dramatic, Hessler describes a segment of Chinese society that is marginal to the history of contemporary China and yet typical of much of the country.”
     Hessler continues to write about China, most recently in the May 28th issue of The New Yorker with an article about one of his students in Fuling who moved to Shenzhen and started on her own way to independence.
  The cover story of the June 11th issue of U.S. News & World Report is on the changing face of Las Vegas and features in a sidebar, Richard Wiley (Korea 1967–69), who helped make Las Vegas America's first “City of Asylum,” to support writers who have had to flee their home countries. Wiley is a friend of Glenn Schaeffer, president of the Mandalay Resort Group, and the two are trying to spark a literary renaissance in LV. They met at the University of Iowa’s famous Writers’ Workshop where they both were students. Wiley went on to becoming a successful, award-winning novelists. Schaeffer gave up writing and became rich.
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