Peace Corps Writers
Talking with . . .
. . . Rich Wandschneider

An interview by John Coyne
FISHTRAP IS A NON-PROFIT EDUCATIONAL organization dedicated to “promoting clear thinking and good writing in and about the West.” The full-time director is writer and RPCV RichPrinter friendly version Wandschneider (Turkey 1965–67) who created Fishtrap in the 1980s. Although Fishtrap is for writers, teachers, and readers from across the country, it is firmly rooted in Wallowa County of northeastern Oregon. What makes Fishtrap so special is the connection to Oregon, and the opportunity to meet people who live and work there on farms, ranches, national forests and in small town stores and offices. For those who live in Oregon, Fishtrap brings emerging and major writers from across the West, and occasionally from other parts of the country and other countries, to this remote spot, and thus provides a window on the world.
     Having known and written to Rich for years, I finally had an opportunity recently to interview him for Peace Corps Writers.
  Where were you a Peace Corps Volunteer and when?
    I was a Rural Community Development Volunteer in Turkey from 1965 to 1967. I had the great good fortune to work in a refugee village — Bulgarian and Greek and Yugoslavian Turks who had come to Turkey in the late 1930s — surrounded by Kurdish villages in eastern Turkey.
     After completing service, I spent a year in D.C. as a “Peace Corps Fellow,” and then went back to Turkey on staff. I was in Turkey as Peace Corps pulled out in 1970, a casualty of Kennedy’s assassination and the Vietnam War and all the bad feelings they engendered across the Europe and the Middle East. (In 1965, pictures of John F. Kennedy hung alongside pictures of Ataturk in small and remote villages.)
Judy & Rich
Tell us about Fishtrap? How did it get started? How does it work?
My wife Judy — who was a childcare Volunteer in Turkey — and I moved to a small town in eastern Oregon in 1971 with the Extension Service to do rural community development. In 1976, with the help of my old Peace Corps partner, Barb Bailey, who then owned the bookstore in Sun Valley, we opened the Bookloft in Enterprise, Oregon.


Rich & Alvin Josephy

     In the twelve years at the Bookloft, I met many Northwest writers — Kim Stafford, Craig Lesley, Ursula LeGuin, etc. — and developed a close friendship with historian Alvin Josephy, who has had a summer home here since the early ’60s. Alvin was, and is, a leading figure in telling the American Indian story from an Indian point of view — Patriot Chiefs, The Indian Heritage of America, Red Power, Now that the Buffalo’s Gone, 500 Nations, etc.
     In the early ’80s, Alvin had participated in a series of Sun Valley Conferences on the West , and Kim Stafford hosted Northwest Writers’ Gatherings at Lewis and Clark College in Portland in 1986 and 87. In 1988 we moved the Gathering to Wallowa Lake and Alvin invited some of his eastern friends to join us for a conference on “Western Writing and Eastern Publishing.” Kim and Craig and Ursula and Bill Kittredge and James Welch joined Naomi Bliven from The New Yorker, Marc Jaffe from Houghton Mifflin, and New York agent Julian Bach for the discussion, and Fishtrap just kind of took off.
     We continue to have Summer Gatherings — this July marks the 15th — and we continue to build them around themes: this year, “Writing in Troubled Times” ; last year, “The Legacy of Vietnam.” The Gathering is a celebration of writing — what someone called a “revival meeting for writers” rather than a toolbox for writing and getting published. We have, however, added a week-long series of workshops with the Summer Gathering (although we’re light on the marketing and critiquing and long on writing and generating new material).

Take a look at Fishtrap
     Over the years — very organically — we have added:
  • a Fellowship program which recognizes emerging writers;
  • a Winter Gathering which focuses on public policy issues (e.g., “Fire,” “Water,” “Violence,” and next year some aspect of “Sustainability");
  • an annual community and schools “Writer-in-Residence”;
  • April and October writers’ retreats at a remote donated cabin;
  • and occasional readings and workshops throughout the year.

     Last year, with the help of $60,000 in grants and $135,000 in private donations, we moved into our own facility — an historic home in Enterprise. It provides offices for me — the full-time director, and for a part-time education coordinator and a part-time business manager. It also has a reading/meeting space which seats 20 around a workshop table or 60 for a reading or lecture; a visiting writer’s bedroom; and a home for the Alvin Josephy Library for Writers in the West.
     A steady stream of writers has already made use of the bedroom, and the library is gaining volumes and currently has one wall of bookshelves on the way to three. Three writers’ groups and a book club use the house, and a first Spring Lecture Series featuring journalism, Middle East politics, and the history of rodeo queens was a sell-out.

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