Peace Corps Writers: introduction — 7/2006

    The 2006 Award Winners —
    Publisher Marian Haley Beil, (Ethiopia 1962–64) and I are pleased to announce the winners of the 2006 Peace Corps Writers Awards for books published during 2005. The winning books and authors are:

      Paul Cowan Non-Fiction Award
      Last Moon Dancing: A Memoir of Love and Real Life In Africa

      by Monique Maria Schmidt (Benin 1998–2000)

      Maria Thomas Fiction Award
      The Manhattan Beach Project
      by Peter Lefcourt (Togo 1962–64)

      Award for Best Poetry Book
      San Miguel De Allende
      by Andrew H. Oerke (PC Staff: Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Jamaica 1966–71)


      African Stiltdancer
      by Andrew H. Oerke

      Award for Best Travel Writing
      Moon Handbooks Nicaragua
      (2nd Edition)
      by Randy Wood (Nicaragua 1998–2000)
      and Joshua Berman (Nicaragua 1998–2000)

      Award for Best Children’s Writing
      Circles of Hope
      by Karen Lynn Williams (Malawi 1980–83)
      illustrated by Linda Saport

      Moritz Thomsen Peace Corps Experience Award
      “The Rainy Season in Guatemala”
      by Jason Boog (Guatemala 2000–02)

      Award for Artistic Merit
      Bill Owens (Jamaica 1964–66)

      In 1972 Bill Owens published a collection of photographs on suburbia entitled Suburbia. In this cult classic book photographer Owens acted as an anthropologist objectively documenting suburban inhabitants, their native environs, and their daily rituals. By pairing the images with quotes made by the subjects, Owens created a hilarious and absurd account of life in the suburbs. A life that included Tupperware parties, backyard barbecues, and going to the hairdresser.
           Last year the fourth and final volume in his landmark Suburbia series [Suburbia (1973; 1999), Our Kind Of People (1975), Working — I Do It For The Money (1977), and Leisure (2004)]. In his introduction to Leisure, photographer Gregory Crewdson writes: “Owens’ photographs belong to an American aesthetic tradition of art that explores the intersection of everyday life and theatricality. Like the paintings of Edward Hopper, the photographs of Walker Evans and Diane Arbus, and the short stories of John Cheever and Raymond Carver, Owens’ photographs find unexpected beauty and mystery within the American vernacular.”
           While most RPCVs take photos, Owens has made it an art form. It is true that one of Bill’s photographs is worth a thousand words. And for that, and for his genius in capturing the host country nationals (HCNs) of America, Peace Corps Writers presents Bill Owens its first Award for Artistic Merit for his career in documenting on film the America society that created the Peace Corps.

    Each award winner will receive a framed certificate plus $200. We congratulate these winners and all the writers from the Peace Corps.

    RPCV writer workshop in New York City
    Peace Corps Writers, in cooperation with the Peace Corps Fund, and the NY Writers Coalition, one of the largest community-based writing organizations in the country, has organized for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers an 8-week creative writing workshop beginning on September 14, 2006. This workshop is for RPCVs only and will be limited to the first 8 RPCVs who apply.
          Writers of all genres, levels of experience and subject matter are welcomed. (However, the participants are encouraged to write about their Peace Corps experience and bring the world back home through the printed word to Americans who know little about the peoples and cultures of the developing world.) Workshop members will be given freedom to find and strengthen their individual and unique voices, as well as to experiment with form, style and new genres. In addition, the workshop will provide a structure for writers to produce new work on a regular basis.
         John Coyne, editor Peace Corps Writers, and editor of several anthologies of Peace Corps writings, will work individually with workshop participants to help them publish their work.
         The workshop will be led by Sean Tanner, writer, certified NY Writers Coalition workshop leader and experienced international volunteer.
         The workshop will begin on Thursday, September 14 at 7 pm and be held on Thursday evenings for 8 weeks. The workshop will be given at
         Peace Corps Fund Office
         Neighborhood Preservation Center
         232 East 11th Street
         New York

         The workshop cost is $75 for 8 weeks. Peace Corps Writers will provide one scholarship to the most recently returned Peace Corps Volunteer.Contact Stacey Flanagan to apply at

    Candida’s Book Store features Peace Corps writers
    Candida’s World of Books in Washington, D.C., is now featuring books by Peace Corps writers by placing them on a special display shelf at the front of the store. To my knowledge this is the first commercial book store to have a separate section for Peace Corps books. The store located is at 1541 14th Street, NW, in downtown D.C. and it is the area’s only travel bookstore. The story is owned and operated by Candida Mannozzi.
         For Peace Corps writers and readers, Candida will order and ship books to you WHEREVER you live in the world. Contact her at: Tell Candida you read about her store in Peace Corps Writers.
        Peace Corps writers might want to alert Candida if they have a published book that focuses on travel or an international subject area, including an international cookbook, a children’s book, a travel guide, etc. Email Candida about your book. However, the store is not able to handle Print-on-Demand publications or other types of self-published books.

    And then Sarge said to me . . .
    . . .
    John Durand (Philippines 1962–63)

    I WAS FLAT ON MY BACK in a Manila hospital when Sargent Shriver paid me a visit in 1962. I’d been pulled out of my remote station in Catarman on the island of Samar, Philippines to be hospitalized so doctors could figure out what kind of mysterious tropical illness had laid me low with severe joint pain.
         Sarge visited a couple other Volunteers also hospitalized at the time, then came into my room with his entourage and he was carrying a bunch of American magazines. After a few pleasantries he handed me the magazines and said he’d read them on the plane on the way over and was finished with them and thought I might like to read something from home. Of course, I said, and later devoured them.
         Sometime later one of our Peace Corps staff reported the truth of the matter: Sarge had stopped them all in the lobby, perplexed that he had nothing to bring us hospitalized Volunteers. In the hospital gift shop he’d dug into his own pocket to clean out their supply of American magazines so he could present them to us.
         I’ve remembered that act of thoughtful generosity ever since.

    As for the joint pain, Filipino doctors thought it might be rheumatoid disease, and the doctors in Catarman had thought it might be what they called “broken bone” sickness. It was neither and since his Peace Corps years the pain has never returned to reduce John, as he says, to tears.
         Now retired from a career as a human services administrator at the state and county levels, John has gone on to write two well received historical novels and a memoir.

    [Do you have a Sarge Shriver story you’d like to share? Send it along to and we’ll add it to our growing collection of Then Sarge Said to Me! Tales from the early days of the Peace Corps.]

    In This Issue
    Mike Learned (Malawi 1963–65) talks with Michael McColly (Senegal 1981–83), author of The After-Death Room: Journeys into Spiritual Activism. Learned also reviews this important memoir of living with AIDS.
         This issue has five more reviews of new books, and a list of books just published by RPCV writers. Also, check out Literary Type for some amazingly good news about Peace Corps writers.

    Again, Marian and I thank you for your support, your ideas, and the prose and poetry you share with us and everyone connected with the Peace Corps, past, present, and future.

    John Coyne