Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Daniel Jordan Smith (page 3)
 Talking with
Daniel Jordan Smith
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Many of our readers are interested in publishing books. Explain the process for an academic like yourself to have a book published by a major university press, such as Princeton. For example, did you write the book first and submit it? Did the press come to you and ask for such a book? What is the usual way [if any] for someone to get a scholarly work published?

It’s a long process, but I suspect publishing any book is. The process differs a bit depending on the stage in one’s career. For relatively senior and more famous academics it’s possible to get a book contract before one has actually written the book. This was my first book, and I wrote the whole manuscript before I solicited a press. I sent a book prospectus, my CV, and a sample chapter around to the major presses I was interested in. I had several good options because various university presses expressed a desire to review the book. In the end — again, at least for a first book — you have to choose one press to review the book. I chose Princeton. They then sent the manuscript out to (anonymous) peer reviewers in my field (in this case, anthropology and Africa), and based on the reviews the press decided to proceed with a contract.

How long did it take you to research and write A Culture of Corruption?

I was doing “research” for the book even before I knew it, in the sense that I use material from when I first started working in Nigeria in 1989. But I began consciously thinking about and studying corruption around 2001 and spent several summers and six months in 2004 in Nigeria collecting more material — though I was also working on other projects at the same time. I wrote most of the book in an intensive five-month stretch between January and May 2005, during a semester-long sabbatical.

Recently on the television program 60 Minutes there was another example of this fraud in Africa. Most Americans have such a distorted view of Africa, from Tarzan on one hand to hustlers selling fake watches on the streets of New York City, to emails in their computer mail. Those of us who have lived in Africa have a different view of the continent. What can we do as RPCVs to correct this view of Africa?

I think it’s incredibly important to represent Africa accurately and no doubt most of the images circulating in America are far too negative and stereotypical. I guess one of the most important things RPCVs can do is share their stories of the real Africans they know. Real people’s lives aren’t easily reducible to negative stereotypes. For me it was the connection to people that was so powerful in the Peace Corps, and it has shaped not only my career in research and teaching, but also my politics and the ethical choices I make in everyday life. I think in the end it’s those connections to real people and the stories we can tell to make Africa and Africans accessible to others that can make some difference.

From your recent trips to Africa, your family connections, etc., what do you see for the future of Africa, or just Nigeria?

I am at once hopeful and fearful about the future in Africa and in Nigeria particularly. I am fearful because inequality remains so entrenched even as ordinary people increasingly realize that they deserve better. This breeds a lot of discontent, and the pathways forward are uncharted. Often these unfulfilled expectations contribute to anger and violence. I am hopeful because in my experience most Nigerians — and I suspect most Africans — genuinely want a more just, equal and peaceful world, and even though they have experienced many of the promises of democracy and development as facades for corruption rather than real progress, in the process aspirations for change have been strengthened.

Thank you for your time and for this interview.
My pleasure.
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