Peace Corps Writers
Talking with . . .

The Bush Survival Bible

An interview by John Coyne
I met Gene Stone (Niger 1974–76) by chance at a party in Thurston Clarke’s (Tunisia 1968) apartment on the upper West Side of New YorkPrinter friendly version years and years ago. He was just back from the Peace Corps and working as an editor, and I was trying to write fiction full time. We eyed each other with equal amounts of suspicion. Editors are always (and I know this from being married to one) cautious of “would be writers” they stumble upon at parties, leery that the writer might try to slip them a bulky manuscript along with the canapé. Gene, as I recall after all these years, was friendly and open and willing to help any RPCV. However, this was the only time we met though from time to time I would spot his name in news about book publishers. Then this fall I came across his name again, this time in connection with the publication of an “instant” book entitled The Bush Survival Bible with the subtitle of “250 Ways to Make It Through the Next Four Years Without Misunderestimating the Dangers Ahead, and Other Subliminable Strategeries.” The book has been as high as number five on the New York Times extended paperback advice, how-to and miscellaneous list, and is already in its seventh printing. Seeking advice myself on how to “survive” the election and wanting to learn what happened to him, I got in touch with Gene Stone, and found him still living on the West Side of New York.
Where were you as a Volunteer, Gene?
I was in Niger, from 1974–1976, and was assigned to teach English at the just-established University of Niamey. The second year, weirdly, I was co-chairman of the English Department. Sounds impressive, but of course, there were only about 15 students and no buildings.
What was that like? Niger? Your job? Do you remember fondly anything from ’74 to ’76?
Those are some pretty big questions, could go on for pages — but I won’t! Mostly I loved my Peace Corps experience. Niger was a warm and hospitable country, the people were unusually open to Americans, and having a job teaching at the university meant that my students were often my age or older. I taught English to them but they taught me a lot of lessons about life that I needed to learn — my students were, for the most part, considerably more mature than I was. Sometimes I look back and feel embarrassed for not having been wiser, which I know they noticed, and I hope they’ve forgiven me.
     I also miss the Peace Corps camaraderie — making friends with people of all types and backgrounds just on the basis of being in the same country. Most of them weren’t people I would ever have met. I still have several close friends from the group and occasionally hear from others — just a few months ago my old friend Dave Campbell called me from Eugene, Oregon, where he is running a small winery called Casablanca. I hadn’t heard from him in twenty years. But the Peace Corps bond is strong enough that you can just pick up a conversation from that long ago and start talking again.
     I miss Niger, too — the people, the desert, the music in the streets, the food in the marche, the political discussions at all hours of the night. I don’t miss the illnesses, though — I once had malaria, parasites, ringworm, and dysentery at the same time, and dropped 30 pounds from my already skinny 160 pound frame. The malaria visited often, six times in two years. Maybe that’s what keeps me from returning.
     This may sound like a recruiting advertisement, but the Peace Corps was the single greatest experience of my life. I recommend it to everyone, and no one I know who has gone has regretted it.
Let’s talk about your book. Where did you get the idea for The Bush Survival Bible to be published within days of his election?
The book had an odd history — I didn’t come up with the idea until after the third presidential debate. I then called someone at Random House who put me in touch with Jon Karp, the editorial director; he liked the idea but gave me only five days to write the book, so they could publish it right after the election. And, of course, it was only to be published if Bush won. So although I was a die-hard Kerry supporter, I had to work on the project knowing that it would only come out if Kerry lost. I wrote it. Bush won. The book came out.
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