Literary Type — March 2007

Sandra Meek (Botswana 1989–91), associate professor of English, rhetoric and writing at Berry College, has been awarded the largest book-publication prize for poetry in the United States for her third collection of poems, Biogeography.
     The Dorset Prize consists of a $10,000 cash for the author and a guarantee of national and international distribution for the winning entry. Biogeography will be released by Tupelo Press in spring 2008.
     In 2003 Peace Corps Writers gave Sandra our annual award for her collection of poems Nomadic Foundations.
     Over the years Sandra has published in many of the poetry magazines, including Poetry, AGNI, The Kenyon Review, Conjunctions, Shenandoah, The Iowa Review and Prairie Schooner. Twice, she has been recognized with the Georgia Author of the Year Award for poetry by the Georgia Writers Association, first for Nomadic Foundations (2003) and later for Burn (2006).

Richard Wiley’s (Korea 1967–69) novel Commodore Perry’s Minstrel Show that just came out from the University of Texas Press received a star review from Publisher’s Weekly — no small achievement. Buy the book! Here’s the review:

In 1854, when the U.S. Navy’s Commodore Perry sailed into Edo (now Tokyo) with the grand goal of opening Japan to trade, he brought major change and minor entertainment — a black-face minstrel show that amazed and perplexed its audience. In this brilliantly imagined novel, Wiley, shifting perspectives with deft ease, follows two fictional white minstrels, Ace Bledsoe and Ned Clark, as they confront Japanese society, while he subversively engages the reader in a deeply allegorical reading of cultural exchange. Ace and Ned come under the wing of interpreter Manjiro Okubo, whose powerful family is locked in an old clan rivalry. The rivals’ plot to kidnap the musicians sets off a train of events romantic and tragic, with touches of Keystone Kops: with tantalizing authorial discretion, lovers enjoy one another, villains flash lethal swords, beauty balances bawdy, and rivalries and enmities explode. (Readers need not have read Wiley’s PEN/Faulkner Award-winning Soldiers in Hiding, for which this novel is a way-back prequel.) This absorbing and immensely pleasurable book achieves momentum through Wiley’s fluid style, the lightness with which he bears his learning, and the vitality and wit with which he brings a vanished world to life.

Tom Tatum (Fiji 1968–71) has published Fiji 1970, a POD novel from Xlibris. POD stands for ’print-on-demand, i.e., a ’self-published’ book that you can buy off the Internet. It came out in February and we’ll be reviewing it in an upcoming issue of Peace CorpsWriters. You have to give Tom credit for knowing how to market his book. In real life, Tom makes movies out in Colorado. Check out:

Chris Delcher (El Salvador 1998–2000) is trying to find the maps and mapmakers of the Peace Corps. Many Volunteers are trained to make community maps while in service. These maps range from the hand-drawn variety that live in tattered journals to very sophisticated maps created with digital Geographic Information Systems. Chris’ own hand-drawn maps focused on pubic health by displaying the problem of minimal latrine coverage in his town but Volunteers from all Peace Corps programs are using maps for many reasons. No matter the size or sophistication, if you have a map (or even a picture of you next to a map that you have created) from your service or know an RPCV that does, please contact Chris at Chris is writing an article for Cartographic Perspectives on his own maps while he was in the Peace Corps. Chris is an epidemiologist who does disease mapping and he is trying to tie together the hand-drawn epidemiological maps of his Peace Corps days with the sophisticated digital type that he is doing now. In his research, Chris realized that the breadth of maps was much larger than just his own experience so he is looking for other examples. He hopes [someday] to write more comprehensively regarding maps and mapmakers in the Peace Corps. If you can help him, drop him an email of what map(s) you might have.

Jan Worth’s (Tonga 1976–78) Peace Corps novel Night Blind is a top ten finalist in literary fiction in the ForeWord Magazine 2006 Book of the Year Awards. Worth’s novel is a fictionalized account of what happened after the murder of Debbie Gardner in the Kingdom of Tonga in 1976. Winners will be announced June 1, 2007 at the BookExpo in New York City.

John I. Blanck, Jr. (Lesotho 1989-91) recently published an essay discussing the Maritime Labor Convention (2006) in the Tulane Maritime Law Journal. The treaty is designed to raise seafarer labor standards. Now he is writing an essay about his first motorcycle accident and living in Egypt and working for a peacekeeping organization.

John Sherman (Nigeria/Biafra 1966–67 and Malawi 1967–68) has written the libretto for a 3-act opera, “Biafra,” based on his book, War Stories: A Memoir of Nigeria and Biafra. Nathan Blume composed the score for 20 minutes’ worth of the opera that had its world premiere in December in Indianapolis.
     To download and view the performance and John’s remarks about the opera visit For more information, contact

Tony D’Souza (Cote D’Ivoire 2000–02, Madagascar 2002–03) is following a murder case in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua where he had visited. Tony has a 9,000 word article about the murder and trial coming out in the June issue of Outside Magazine. Tony appeared on the Today Show to speak about the case.
     Besides that, Tony’s Peace Corps novel Whiteman has won or is short listed for a number of major book awards. The list includes: finalist for the LA Times Art Seidenbaum Award for Best First Fiction, winner to be announced April 27th, 2007; finalist, The New York Public Library Young Lions Award, winner announced May 21st, 2007; winner, The American Academy of Arts & Letters Sue Kaufman Award for Best First Fiction; winner, Florida Gold Medal for General Fiction;winner, Poets & Writers Magazine Best First Fiction.
     Tony also had short story “The Man Who Married a Tree” selected for the 2007 Best American Fantasy anthology to be published by Prime Books. The story previously appeared in McSweeney’s.

Author and Special Correspondent to Vanity Fair Maureen Orth (Colombia 1965–67), continues to write and to fulfill the Third Goal of the Peace Corps. She is leaving shortly for Colombia where she has set up a Colombian foundation for a school that she built when she was a PCV, Escuela Rural Marina Orth, just outside of Medellin.
     Maureen is working with another RPCV, Jack Whelan (Colombia 1963–65), who was supervisor of bi-lingual education in Lynne, MA, before his retirement, and is down at the Universidad Pedagogica in Tunja now as a visiting professor. Maureen and Jack are hoping to get some of his new Colombian teachers to work at Escuela Rural Marina Orth. Any (preferably Spanish speaking) RPCV who would like to get involved in Maureen’s project should contact her through her website She is looking for teachers to come to Colombia, especially those who know how to teach English as a second language to Colombian teachers, as well as for supplies, and, if not that, money!
     Meanwhile, in her journalist role, Maureen has an article coming out in the May issue of O Magazine about a remarkable nun, Sister Janet Harris, 77 — who began a writing program in the juvenile prison in Los Angeles and was instrumental in having the sentence vacated of a sixteen-year-old who had been tried as an adult for murder and sentenced to life in prison.

The March/April 2007 issue of Poets & Writers, a major publication for writers, has a wonderful article by Tony D’Souza (Ivory Coast and Madagascar 2000–03) entitled “The Peace Corps: A Literary Line of Volunteers,” and another article entitled “All The Things He Did Not Know” about Tom Bissell’s (Uzbekistan 1996–97) quick rise as a serious writer of fiction and non-fiction.
     Tony sums up his article about Peace Corps writers by saying, “When President Kennedy, creating the Peace Corps forty-six years ago, asked Americans to journey abroad, he inspired not only a community of global citizens, he spurred on future generations of global writers.”
     In “All The Things He Did Not Know” Bissell says of his bittersweet Peace Corps experience in Uzbekistan, “I figured once I joined the Peace Corps I would have something to write about. And Holy God, did I get a lot to write about. I got so much that I only recently stopped writing about it.” He wrote a book, Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia, based in part on his Peace Corps experience that was published in 2003. Tom’s agent sold the book to Pantheon based on his one-page idea for an advance of $100,000. Not bad for a first book. Not bad for a Peace Corps writer. Keep writing everyone!