Peace Corps Writers
Talking with . . .

Monique Maria Schmidt

Last Moon Dancing

Read Joe Kovacs' review of Last Moon Dancing

An interview by John Coyne
OVER A YEAR AGO I received an email from a woman wanting to know if Geraldine Kennedy (Liberia 1962–64) was the “real thing” becausePrinter friendly version Geraldine wanted to publish her Peace Corps book. I emailed the woman saying that not only was Geraldine the “real thing” but if Geraldine wanted to publish her book then she was truly fortunate. I did not hear from the woman again, but Geraldine sent me a note saying she had found a “great writer” and shortly afterwards Geraldine sent me a book by Monique Maria Schmidt (Benin 1998–2000) entitled Last Moon Dancing. “Ah,” I said, so this is the great writer and her book. And what a book it is. Monique tells the story of her two years teaching in Benin with great humor and great prose, and while we haven’t met, I understand that in person, Monique is quite the great woman herself.
     From Geraldine, I received Monique’s email address and we began a correspondence about Last Moon Dancing. This was not easily done because Monique has the habit of not reading her email and she tends to move around a lot.
     Nevertheless, here is what she had to say when we did connect.
Monique, what prompted you to join the Peace Corps?
I spent my junior year abroad in France and wanted to travel again and be able to use my French. However, I didn’t want to be just a tourist. I wanted to actually be a part of a community. I also wanted to do something more “rugged” than the university in France — and Africa definitely was. I thought Peace Corps provided an ideal opportunity to help others while learning.
Where did you go to college?
I went to undergrad at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and graduated with majors in French and Communications. I went to grad school for creative writing at Syracuse University after my service.
Did you go to the Peace Corps right after college?
Yes. I left for Africa a week after my college graduation.
What was your Peace Corps assignment?
I was teaching English in the village of Glazoue, Benin, West Africa.
You have a great sense of humor that comes out in your book. Tell us the funniest thing that happened to you while you were a Volunteer?
Hmmmm . . . there were so many moments . . . however, I think the moment that makes me laugh the most often since my return happened on the “safari” some of my Peace Corps friends arranged. It was our first vacation in-country and probably one of the best vacations during my service. We didn’t have enough money to go on a real safari or stay in a hotel; so we rented a “mini-van” and a hired a guide and bought baguettes and cans of tuna-fish for our three day trip. On the first night, one of my friends opened the can of tuna-fish and spilled it all over her jeans . . . and she didn’t have another pair to change into . . . after sleeping on the ground and then riding on top of the mini-van for three days in tuna-oil covered pants, she made quite the contrast when we walked past the French tourists sipping champagne next to their range-rover. That combined with her wind blown hair is an image I’ll always remember.
Were you thinking about writing a book about the Peace Corps while you were in Africa?
No. When I was in Africa, I was more interested in writing letters home to people and writing poems for myself and others. However, Africa was when I discovered that I truly loved writing and came to believe in the power/necessity of the written word. I decided during my Peace Corps service that I wanted writing to be part of my life; I just wasn’t sure exactly how to make it work.
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