Among the winners honored by the North American Travel Journalists Association for the best travel writing of 2006 was an article about plant travel. At its annual conference in May, NATJA announced that David Taylor’s (Mauritania 198385) article “Fearsome Roots in a Quiet Forest,” won for Best Historical Travel Writing. The article, published in Tricycle magazine (Summer 2006), was excerpted from his book Ginseng, the Divine Root (Algonquin). It relates the natural and social history that connects two cultures a world apart, combining elements of true crime, international trade and folklore.
Currently Taylor is making a documentary film about a group of young people who escaped joblessness during the Great Depression and discovered their creativity in the Federal Writers’ Project. A handful went on to become some of the century’s greatest voices, including John Cheever, Zora Neale Hurston, Saul Bellow, Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison. The project is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Peter Hessler (China 1996-98) had an article in the May 21, 2007, of The New Yorker entitled “Walking the Walk” which is a section from his next book on China. Peter’s last book, Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China has just come out in paperback.
Tony D’Souza (Cote D’Ivoire 2000-02; Madagascar 2002-03) was the only foreign journalist to cover the complete Doris Jimenez murder investigation and trial, which saw American Eric Volz convicted and sentenced to 30 years in Nicaraguan prison for a crime he did not commit. Tony happened onto the case during an unrelated assignment for Outside Magazine that saw him drive his Ford Ranger from Florida to Nicaragua. He has since appeared on The Today Show, Dateline, the BBC, and NPR talking about the case, and many other news outlets have picked up the story, including CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Tony’s 10,000 word feature article appeared in the June issue of Outside Magazine.
Tony was also recently in New York on a media junket, and to receive the Sue Kaufman Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. On May 26th, he left for a six month stay in Japan on the NEA US-Japan Friendship Fellowship. He’ll be studying Ainu oral-storytelling on Hokkaido. Novelist Richard Wiley (Korea 196769) was also a recipient of this prestigious fellowship in the ’90s.
Christopher Huh (Niger 1994-97) won First Place/Nonfiction category in the 2006 Tiferet writing competition for his narrative essay “Allah Brings the Rains.” He will receive a $750 prize and publication in the upcoming issue of Tiferet: A Journal of Spiritual Literature, (www.tiferetjournal.com) a multi-faith literary magazine dedicated to revealing and celebrating Spirit through the written word. Published twice a year, Tiferet is an internationally distributed journal that features poetry, fiction, essays, and commentary from some of today’s best writers, poets, thinkers and philosophers.
Chris served as an Environmental Protection Volunteer in Birni N’Kazawé, eastern Niger, and was a participant of the 2005 Peace Corps Writers writing workshop. He and his wife Sherry (also a Niger RPCV) live in Downeast Maine. Chris is currently writing a memoir reflecting on his time in Niger.
Roderick Jones (Nicaragua 1992-96) has an article entitled, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Taxidermy” in the Spring, 2007 #86 issue of Backstreets: The Boss Magazine. Roderick reports that “even though this isn’t a Peace Corps piece, it evolved out of the online class I took with you a few years ago.” All writing counts, Roderick, wherever it is published.
Writing an Op-ed for the Boston Globe [July 23, 2007] from Mezzegra, Italy, Roland Merullo (Micronesia 197980) reflects on Benito Mussolini. It turns out that the summer place where Roland and his family were staying is within a short walk to Villa Belmonte, the spot where Mussolini and his mistress were executed by communist partisans on April 28, 1945. As an Italian-American, Roland reflects in this article on his own roots, the arc of Mussolini’s career, and what harm one man can do to a country.
Roland has a warning for the U.S.: “Attenta! as the Italians say, when they see a friend crossing a street. Careful! Even in a great nation, given a few bad decisions, a few loud and convincing voices counseling hatred, so much can change so fast.”
Josh Swiller’s (Zambia 199496) memoir of his service, The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa, due out in early September, is garnering many positive reviews and praise.
Swiller also keeps a blog that details, among other things, Josh’s recovery from Cochlear Implant surgery to regain his hearing. Read it at www.cochbla.blogspot.com
His website www.JoshSwiller.com is just up and has an excerpt from his book, photos from his tour, and links to the NGOs he’s working with to bring attention and aid to the plight of deaf and blind children in Africa.
Ron Singer’s (Nigeria 196467) essay-review, O Ti Lo Wa Ju (“You Have Gone Past All") appears in the summer 2007 issue of The Georgia Review. The subject is the Caine Prize for African Writing, an Anglophone short-story prize awarded under the same auspices as the Booker. Singer introduces the seven winning stories to date, and places them in their historical, political and literary contexts. (To read the article, go to the Review website, click “Current Issue” on the top left of the homepage, the scroll down to find a link to a .pdf version of the article.)
Ron is currently looking for a publisher for his collection of published writings about Africa. The Armchair Africanist comprises twenty-six articles, interviews, and reviews on politics and the arts. His Peace Corps stint in Nigeria was the initial source of his interest in Africa, and it was rekindled by a lecture at a reunion in 1998. All of his pieces have appeared in/on magazines and e-zines, ranging from a Peace Corps publication (Friends of Nigeria newsletter) and a pro-democracy website (opendemocracy.net), to better-known venues (The Wall Street Journal, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Poets & Writers online, and The Georgia Review).
Looking for a low-residency writing program? Bennington College in beautiful Vermont has a two-year, low-residency program that awards MFA in Writing and Literature, and features on its core faculty Tom Bissell (Uzbekistan 199697), and as a writer-in-residence, Bob Shacochis (Eastern Caribbean 197576). Check out www.bennington.edu/acad_grad_writ.asp.
The new issue of StorySouth, a magazine edited by Jason Sanford (Thailand 199496) is now online at www.StorySouth.com.
A new science fiction story of Jason’s has just been published on Orson Scott Card’s site InterGalactic Medicine Show. The story, “Rumspringa,” is a look at Amish life in the far future. You can check the story online in Issue 5. And you can read more of Jason’s writings at www.JasonSanford.com.
In 2008, Hall of Fame Press will publish a Red Sox mystery written by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith (Cameroon 196567) and her son Jere. This is Mary-Ann’s 10th book and will feature the return of Rocky Patel, the Boston homicide detective who first appeared in her novel She Smiled Sweetly. Son Jere [not an RPCV] is a fourth-generation Red Sox fan. This book is the first in a planned series of baseball mysteries to be written by the Smiths and published by Hall of Fame Press.
Eve Brown-Waite (Ecuador 198889) has hit the jackpot with her Peace Corps book, Take Me Home. She just signed a six-figure contract with Broadway Books, a division of Random House for her memoir that will be published in the spring of ’09. The book sold at auction, [five publishing houses were bidding for it] while Eve and her husband, John Waite (Burkina Faso 198386), waited out the day of tension at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City, taking calls from her agent, and turning down offers. At one point, Eva turned down a two-book contract from Harper-Collins. “Here I was turning down book offers when I had rejection letters from magazines, agents, and publishers filling up my desk drawer back home.”
Eve, who was recruited out of the New York Recruitment office [then located at Times Square] by the same John Waite. “I fell in love with him during the interview. I wasn’t sure about the Peace Corps, but I was sure about him.” Eva did go off to Ecuador only to be sent home early for medical reasons. “I didn’t think he’d marry me then since I wasn’t a Super Vol.”
So, she went and earned a master’s degree in public health from Hunter College and he got his master’s in International Affairs from Columbia University. They married and John took a job with CARE in northern Uganda. It was in Arua, Uganda that she began to write down her stories, beginning with her work with street kids in Ecuador, her life in Uganda, and later their tour from 199396 in Uzbekistan.
She has plenty of stories to tell. The full title of her memoir is: Take Me Home: My Search for Meaning and a Decent Restroom in the Third World. My guess is that this Peace Corps memoir won’t be politically correct.
Their tour in Uzbekistan was during a time of guerrilla warfare and tense days both were held hostage in their home at one point but Eve also adds, “Most of the time it was beautiful and peaceful. We had a lovely time, and the people for the most part were tremendously friendly and helpful.”
Her memoir begins and ends in Uzbekistan, but it is really about “following John a Peace Corps poster boy through the Third World.”
It has taken Eve 12-years to write her story [and now she is busy re-writing] while she raised a family and worked full time. Today, she is a nutrition director for a community action/ childhood development center and John is the executive director of a community development corporation in the same county in western Massachusetts.
When not working or rewriting, she daydreams about who will play “them” in the movie. [Yes, there is already movie interest.] Eve is thinking of Sarah Jessica Parker, “who’s also curly-haired and short and Jewish.” And for John, she’d like, Matthew McConaughey. “He’s a real Peace Corps ‘poster boy’ type.”
Eve’s real dream, however, is to have her movie shot in Arua, Uganda, “because it will bring attention and economic development there,” she says, and it will also be a chance for John and her to go back to where they began their married life.
Peter Chilson (Niger 198587), an associate professor of English at Washington State University, has just had a new awarding-winning collection of short stories published. Disturbance-Loving Species won the 2006 Katherine Bakeless Nason Prize for fiction. This collected of stories received a Starred Review in Publishers Weekly and the book description reads: “In the tradition of Paul Theroux, Peter Chilson’s fiction debut delivers a fascinating, heart-wrenching view of modern African culture, filtered through the lens of the West.”
Peter is also the author of a memoir, Riding the Demon: On the Road in West Africa.
In July, Nancie McDermott (Thailand 197578) had her prime-time television debut on the Food Network’s Alton Brown’s “Good Eats.” Nancie was The Cake Detective, serving up a little culinary history in the season premier of this Peabody Award-winning program.
Nancie currently has a recipe on the Food Network web site for Cha Yen.
John Woods (Ethiopia 196568) talks politics, books, philosophy, cars, travel, etc. on his new blog op-edmadison.blogspot.com Check it out. Leave a comment.