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Two Ton
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An interview by John Coyne

SEVERAL YEARS AGO I came across a novel entitled The Viper Tree written by an RPCV, Joe Monninger, who served in Burkina Faso.Printer friendly version My wife, who has no connection to the Peace Corps and just tolerates my fascination with Peace Corps writers, spotted the book and said, “Joe Monninger! He’s cute.” So that was my first introduction to Joe Monninger who wrote for a magazine my wife edited, and that is where she met him — she spotted him in the halls of her office.
     
Having never met Joe — and having no idea of just how “cute” he was, I did contact Joe a few years later and asked if he would participate in a reading by RPCVs at Harvard University — and that is when he and I met.
     Recently I heard from Steerforth Press that Joe had a book coming out about the boxer Two Ton Tony Galento. Being a boxing fan, I contacted Joe about his book, his career, the Peace Corps, and surprising, his love of sled dogs. Here’s what Joe had to say.

Joe, talk first about your Peace Corps experience.

From 1975 to 1977 I was a well digger near the village of Tenado in what was then called Upper Volta. Now we know the country as Burkina Faso.
     I returned to Mali in 1978, this time with U.S.A.I.D..

When you returned to Mali what did you do?

I didn’t stay long. A project out by Mopti fizzled. I found myself sitting in a house with little to do. I also nearly died in a car accident. A Land Rover slipped off the dirt road while the driver was going about eighty miles per hour and I was in the passenger seat. I woke up with blood all over me and was taken and placed in a bed with a dead man. It’s a long story, but I decided to come home.

Have you traveled elsewhere in Africa?
Not nearly as much as I’d like. I went to Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Togo between my first and second year of Peace Corps service. And I returned to America across the desert — Mali, Senegal, then up to Mauritania, Spanish Sahara and Morocco. I love Africa. I still think of it often, and sometimes I smell a wood fire and it transports me back.
How did you get started as a published writer?

I finished third in the 1978 Redbook Short Story contest. That gave me a start. Agents contacted me and I adapted my story, A Slice of It, into a novel titled The Family Man. It was published by Atheneum/Scribner. After that I published novels regularly with Antheneum. New Jersey, Second Season, The Summer Hunt. I published The Viper Tree, a novel about Africa and witchcraft, with Simon & Schuster. I also published a mystery and a thriller with Don I. Fine. Then I had a golden retriever who got sick, and I took off for a summer to fly fish with her. I wrote a non-fiction proposal and Chronicle Books bought it. The book was called Home Waters. They also bought a non fiction book about renovating a barn, A Barn in New England — which was an account of fixing up my house where I live now with my wife, Wendy, and my son, Justin.
     Along the way I wrote articles for American Heritage, Sports Illustrated and the Boston Globe. A bunch of places. I publish fiction now and then in small journals and from time to time in Ellery Queen. I just sold a young adult novel to Front Street Books, a wonderful publisher. The novel is called Baby and it focuses on dog sledding.
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