Peace Corps Writers
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Monique and the Mango Rains

Read Sharon Dirlam’s review of Monique and the Mango Rains

An interview by John Coyne

I BEGAN TO HEAR ABOUT Kris Holloway (Mali 1989–91) several months before her book appeared. I had heard that Carol BellamPrinter friendly versiony (Guatemala 1963–65) and former Peace Corps Director had given a great quote for the jacket. It also had a wonderful title — Monique and the Mango Rains — that suggested that the author had a sense of what sells a book. Kris also had an aggressive publicist marketing her book. My wife, an editor at a major women’s magazine, came home with a pre-publication copy that had been sent by Kris’ PR person. While the book was unsuitable for my wife’s magazine she knew I was always on the look out for new Peace Corps writers. Then Kris sent me an email and we began our correspondence via the Internet. Here’s what Kris has to say about her Peace Corps years, and wonderful new book.

Kris's website Where are you from, Kris?

I grew up in Granville, a small town in corn-central Ohio.

What colleges did you attend?

Allegheny College (BA), University of Michigan (MPH).

Okay, why did you join the Peace Corps?
I wanted to make a difference, of course. I was fresh out of undergrad, with a degree in environmental science and French and wanted to use the combination of the two to help halt the spread of the Sahara, and stop global poverty. A small goal! Also, Peace Corps felt familiar to me — in the ’60s my uncle was headed to Sierra Leone (but then was drafted for Vietnam), my mom’s best friend is an RPCV, and my family is just riddled with folks in the service field. It was social work with an exciting twist.
What was your assignment?

Kris weighing a baby
I was assigned to work in community forestry which mostly involved training teams of young men in anti-erosion techniques. But then I quickly found that I was much more effective (and had a lot more fun) working with the local women in health-related matters. I fell in with the local midwife, Monique Dembele, and worked with her, completely ignoring my official duties as a forester. And to Peace Corps Mali’s credit, they didn’t balk.
Let’s talk about your book. Why did you take the approach you did in writeing about your Peace Corps experience?
I always thought I’d write a story about Monique. She was such an amazing African woman, midwife, and mother — really the first “feminist” in her tiny, rural region of West Africa — and her effect on me during the years I lived with her was profound. My life here in the U.S. was filled with work and kids — way overprogrammed as all parents can relate to — and writing about her remained a dream, something others would remind me about saying “you really should write a book about that . . ..” But when Monique died in the throes of her own labor — with her fifth child — I knew that this book had to be written. I had to go back, had to tell the story of her life, her death, and her remarkable legacy. This book grew out of our trip back and took on a life of its own.
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