Peace Corps Writers
Talking with . . .
Karl Luntta

Know It by Heart

An interview by John Coyne
KARL LUNTTA WENT TO BOTSWANA as a PCV in 1977 where he taught mathematics forPrinter friendly version three years. He then became a training contractor and acting Associate Peace Corps Director in ten more countries in Africa, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean. Since coming home he has been a travel writer, newspaper columnist, and now is Director of Media Relations at the University at Albany, State University of New York.
     Karl has been a supporter of our earlier newsletter, RPCV Writers & Readers, and this website from the beginning, and with the help of this networking of Peace Corps writers found his agent and the publisher of his new book, Know it by Heart. I thought it was about time to talk to Karl about his writing life and his years in the Peace Corps.
  What was your Peace Corps assignment?
    I taught secondary school in Botswana, 1978 through 1980.
     I then worked for Peace Corps/Botswana as a trainer, running programs for newly arrived Volunteers, and eventually worked in Togo for the old Regional Training and Resource Office (RTRO), and in Gabon, Cameroon, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Western Samoa, and the Caribbean. I stayed overseas for about a dozen years.
   Where are you from, what college did you go to?
I’m from East Hartford, Connecticut, the nonfictional town in which Know it by Heart takes place. I went to Central Connecticut State College, where I studied mathematics, which got me to Africa as a teacher.
Did you do much writing when you were overseas?
I had time to write during my overseas years, and made use of it. I wrote constantly — but never published a thing. I’d tried to get some very bad poetry published while I was in college, with the predictable results, and I knew I had some work to do. Looking back on those poems today, I apparently had a great deal of work to do. But while overseas, I wrote short stories and filled journals with ideas for stories — all Volunteers are encouraged by the Peace Corps to keep journals, diaries, etc. and many do.
     At one point I had filled so many journals I decided to send some home. I packed up a box of them and, unfortunately, sent it to the States by overland mail — you know the rest of the story. It never made it. But even though I lost the writing itself, just having produced it, having spent time staring down so many blank pages, was extremely valuable.
What was your first paid writing assignment, and how did you get it?
After returning home, I began to pitch feature article ideas to the paper in my area, the Cape Cod Times. I think one of the first that clicked concerned the growing number of women over the age of 40 having a child for the first time. I continued to write articles and started a column on the feature page of the paper, all the while somewhat lost — I’d been gone for many years and my culture shock was disconcerting. So I looked for ways to get back to the comfort level I’d had overseas and to combine that with writing. I became a travel writer. I pitched an idea on Africa to a publisher of travel books, and they rejected it, but in its place they suggested I write a guide to Jamaica, which I quite happily did; it’s now in its fourth edition.
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