Peace Corps Writers
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Literary Type
Robert Rosenberg (Kyrgyzstan 1994–96) is a new Peace Corps novelist and his first novel, This Is Not Civilization, is coming out from Houghton Mifflin in June.
     Rosenberg was recently profiled in Publisher’s Weekly (January 26, 2004) on the writing of this book that is set in Kyrgyzstan shortly after the collapse of the Soviet empire, then shifts to an Apache reservation in Arizona before returning to Kyrgyzstan, then leaps forward a few years to Turkey on the eve of the August 1999 earthquake. One of the four protagonists is Jeff Hartig, “a well-meaning Peace Corps volunteer whose efforts bring ruination while he attempts to do good.”
     This is a novel of “ambitious literary fiction,” according to Rosenberg’s editor Heidi Pitlor. “It’s for fans of White Teeth and Prague, of Nathan Englander and Jonathan Safran Foer.” Pitlor worked with Rosenberg for over a year in the editing, going through five drafts. That final fine-tuning came after Robert had spent three years writing the novel.
     Rosenberg recently completed his M.F.A. at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and lives in Cibecue, Arizona, a small Apache village. He is one of four teachers who established the village’s first high school. He also founded and edits a community magazine devoted to preserving the culture of the White Mountain Apache tribe. This is a terrific book by a talented RPCV writer. He’s the real thing. Look for This Is Not Civilization in May/June.
John Flynn (Moldova 1993–95) has a short story online at Outsider Ink entitled “Dreaming Rodin” about a middle-aged woman who has been teaching and practicing art in obscurity all of her life. She keeps a journal as she paints and through her journal we get her inner life as she struggles to come to terms with her high standards as an artist, and the sometimes cruel and indifferent students she must contend with as a teacher. Outsider Ink is only available on-line at
     John is writing screen plays full time with Revere Pictures.


In Granta 84: Over There How American Sees the World is a special issue of Granta magazine featuring 20 Americans writers (including two RPCVs) recounting their experiences abroad and how they were influenced by them.
     Tom Bissell (Uzbekistan 1996–97) looks at the simplistic views of many outsiders toward the United States, “the idea that the lava of worldly power flows from a lone volcano in the heart of an American Mordor is a dangerous simplification.” And Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963–65) returns to his time in Malawi and writes a fascinating and scary narrative how he spent four days as a sexual prisoner in Africa. “This was my first true experience of captivity and difference, memorable for being horribly satirical. It had shocked me and made me feel American.”
     You can read Theroux ’s account at
     Award winning writer Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala 1991–93) recently published several stories. “The Race” was in issue number 46 of Whiskey Island; “Air Conditioning and Heat” in the Fall 2003 issue of Permafrost; “The Foreign Correspondent” in the fall 2003/winter 2004 issue of Confrontation. An essay of his, based on his experience in Guatemala in June 2003 entitled, “In the House of Magic and Sorrow” will appear in the June 2004 issue of The Sun — a wonderful publication that has published many RPCV writers.
       Poet Eugenia Hepworth Petty (Ukraine 1995–97) won second place in a competition sponsored by the new online literary site Brick and Mortar Review. She received $250 and her winning poem, “Lviv, Fall 1995,” will be published on the site. It has also been published on the website of the Algol Travel Agency in Lviv, Ukraine.
     In November 2001, her poem “Lutsk, Ukraine, Summer 1995” was published in 4X4: The Newport Review, #1 (a literary broadside published in Rhode Island). Her poems “Medea In The Garden” and “A Bloodless Palm” were published in issues #9 (June, 2003) and #11(October, 2003) respectively. The Newport Review poems were published under her maiden name, Eugenia Hepworth Jenson.
     In in the February 16 issue of The New Yorker George Packer (Togo 1982–83), now a staff writer for that publication, has an essay, “A Democratic World,” on whether the liberals can take our foreign policy back from the Republicans.
   And Peter Hessler (China 1996–98) has another “Letter from Beijing,” this time on Chen Mengjia, a specialist on oracle bones — bones inscribed with the earliest known writing in East Asia.
Redheads Paul Spencer Sochaczewski (Borneo 1969–71) has an article on playing golf in Borneo in Travel + Leisure Golf, March/April 2004 issue. Paul was a PCV in Borneo. “I requested Botswana,” he says, “but got Borneo instead, and it changed my life. Sochaczewski (who in his Peace Corps days was known as Paul Wachtel) stayed in the area for thirteen years and has been back half a dozen time since. Paul’s most recent novel was Redheads (Sid Harta Publishers, 2000).
   Terez Rose (Gabon 1985–87) has an essay in the anthology, Migrants and Stowaways, edited and published by the Knoxville Writers Guild (October 2004). Another of Terez’s essays will be published in Travelers Tales ’: A Woman’s Europe, edited by Marybeth Bond. (June 2004, published by Travelers Tales.)
Jacqueline Lyons (Lesotho 1992–95), who returned to the United States after her Peace Corps service and earned her MFA in Poetry from Colorado State University, is now completing her PhD in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Utah. In 2003, she won a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and has had poems and essays appear recently in such literary magazines as Sonora Review, Bellingham Review, Barrow Street, Quarter After Eight, Florida Review, Calyx, Puerto del Sol, and Interim. Jacqueline now has published her first collection of poems, The Way They Say Yes Here. This book comes from Hanging Loose Press.

The new novel by Kinky Friedman (Borneo 1967–69), The Prisoner of Vandam Street, opens with the Kinkster suffering from a relapse of malaria picked up in the Peace Corps. This novel is the second to last installment of his successful series of mysteries staring himself. The final book, wherein the Kinkster dies, is called Ten Little New Yorkers.
     Kinky recently declared to run for governor of Texas, saying, “I’m not a politician. I’m not a bureaucrat. I’m a writer of fiction who speaks the truth — and I want to bring back the glory of Texas.”

Africa Is Not A Country

My Great grandmother's Gourd

Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen ’s (Tanzania 1989–90) picture book Babu’s Song has won the Children’s Africana Book Award for Young Children. This award was established in 1991 by the Outreach Council of the African Studies Association to encourage the publication and use of children’s books on Africa. The awards focus specifically on books published in the United States about Africa.
     RPCV writers have been previous winners of this award. In 2001 Margy Burns Knights (Benin 1976–77) won for Africa is Not a Country. That same year Cristina Kessler won an honorable mention for My Great-Grandmother’s Gourd.
     The African Studies Association is a non-profit corporation founded in 1957 whose goals are to bring together people with scholarly and professional interest in Africa; to publish and distribute scholarly materials on Africa; and to provide services to schools, businesses, media, and the community at large.
Among author readings, book-signing parties, panel discussions and a catfish dinner or two, the University of Mississippi’s Oxford Conference for the Book on April 1–4 included the celebration of “Mildred D. Taylor Day.” A formal proclamation honoring the native Mississippian and Newbery Medal winner is set for April 2 at 10:30 a.m. in the Ford Center for the Performing Arts. A panel discussion about Taylor’s life also is to be part of the program.
     Millie Taylor (Ethiopia 1965–67) is the author of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, which won the Newbery in 1977, the most prestigious award in children’s literature. The author of eight other novels for young readers, Millie is also spoke at the event in a rare public appearance. The state’s tribute is “long overdue,” says Ethel Young-Minor, assistant professor of English and African-American studies and panel moderator. “Mildred Taylor has spent her life bringing a positive image to Mississippi. Her books have shown people of all ages the interaction between black and white people in this state and have worked to change how people from other places perceive Mississippi.”
     The great-granddaughter of a white plantation owner’s son and a slave, Taylor grew up in Toledo, Ohio, where her family moved shortly after she was born. Following the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, Milly enrolled at the University of Colorado, where she earned a master’s degree in journalism. Taylor herself has said that she has “attempted to present a true picture of life in America as older members of my family remember it, and as I remember it in the days before the civil rights movement.”
Peter Chilson (Niger 1985–87) continues to publish widely. Recently he had three pieces published. A short story called “American Food,” came out in Gulf Coast, a journal out of the University of Houston. This story won the 2003 Gulf Coast Fiction Prize. And essay in the North Dakota Quarterly called “Tourist of Fire, Prisoner of Dust” will be anthologized in a University of Idaho Press anthology on fire in the west. Another short story, “Free Lancing” came out four months ago in Ascent. Longman is also publishing a new travel writing anthology with an excerpt from his book, Riding the Demon.
Lex Rieffel (India 1965–67), a guest scholar in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, as well as an author, has written a Policy Brief on the Peace Corps available free from The Brookings Institution. It is a serious look at the agency today, and as Rieffel writes, “The Peace Corps is one of the smallest instruments in the foreign policy toolkit of the United States. It is a ‘boutique’ agency with a superb reputation.”
Phil Lilienthal (Ethiopia 1965–67) started a camp in South Africa for HIV/AIDS affected children from Soweto. The camp run for about 3 weeks every two months or so and they need staff. Sorry, no air fare available, but room and board, about $100 honorarium, and a moving experience is assured. Approximate dates in 2004 are March 22–April 9; June 21–July 6; July 7–19; September 18–October 3; and December 1–20. Send CV and questions to Phil at Web site at
     Also — books are needed: the camp is creating a library of children’s books. If you are an author of children’s books and can donate one of each, or if you have children’s books and would like them put to good use, these are for children who have never been read to and thrive on it. Send to Phil at: 1606 Washington Plaza, Reston, VA 20190. Donations are tax-deductible.
A photo from Bill Owen’s (Jamaica 1964–66) famous book Suburbia was used by in the Arts section of The New York Times on Thursday, April 1 in connection with an article on the new generation of authors who have writing novels about the suburbs.
James Lerager (Ethiopia 1968–69, Ghana 1969–71) currently has a show of photos at the World Affairs Council of Northern California, 312 Sutter Street, San Francisco. “Mexico: Portraits of Complexity/Retratos de La Complejidad” can be seen in the Council Gallery on the second floor through April 23rd. Contact James at with questions.
Phil Mullins (Jamaica 1970–72) sells books over the internet. You can find him at is largest used book market with over 4,000 bookdealers from around the world and 45,000,000 books listed.
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