Peace Corps Writers
New medium — new name

In RPCV Writers & Readers we called it “Cable Traffic.” The thought's the same, though — we'll report on Peace Corps writers, their accomplishments, the notices they are receiving in the press and, on occasion, we may even have a few tasty tidbits of gossip.

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Literary Type
Mark Jacobs’ (Paraguay 1978–80) first novel, Stone Cowboy was published in 1997 to much acclaim. The Washington Post called it “a remarkable debut from a writer of great promise” and compared his work to that of Robert Stone and Harry Crews. In January, Soho Press published Jacobs’ The Liberation of Little Heaven, a collection of stories, many of which are among the over four dozen recently placed in periodicals ranging from The Atlantic Monthly to Southwest Review. In Time Out, reviewer Bilge Ebiri writes, “The best stories in this collection . . . display not only . . . psychological probing but also the flair of a born storyteller.” In the Boston Book Review, reviewer Marshall Evans writes, “Though stylistic flaws sometimes tinge Jacobs’ engrossing plots with melodrama, his sense of timing in plot resolution and his focus on characters’ private struggles keep these stories vigorous. For all the physical violence, sexual desire, and contemporary politics with which his tales are filled, Jacobs applies himself to the age-old task of exposing a few human hearts.” The Liberation of Little Heaven
Novelist George Packer’s (Togo 1982–83) new book, Central Square, is placed in Boston, but not in the Harvard or Emerson College worlds where he teaches writing. It is in a fictional Central Square based on the real Central Square near where he lives in an apartment on Massachusetts Avenue.
     Besides his job of teaching, Packer spends a day a week — according to an article about him in the December 7, 1998, Boston Globe — at the Jeremiah Burke High School in Dorchester where he coaches college-bound seniors on preparing their application essays. “They’re really important for kids,” Packer said, “especially if their grades and test scores aren’t that great.” It’s a PEN/New England-sponsored program, and Packer is enlisting other members of that local writers group to become “tutors on call” and work with Burke students on their senior research essays.
     Central Square is Packer’s third book, following his Peace Corps book, The Village of Waiting, and a novel, The Half Man. His next novel is about three political generations in his family — his grandfather, an Alabama congressman; his father, a liberal law professor; and himself, a sometime member of the Democratic Socialists of America. In the summer he plays third base for the socialist’s team (DSOX) and also teaches writing at Bennington College in western Massachusetts.
Letters home from a Peace Corps Volunteer were the makings of a book entitled, Dear Exile: The True Story of Two Friends Separated (For a Year) by an Ocean published by Vintage this May. The friends, and authors, are Hilary Liftin, who never left New York City, and Kate Montgomery (Kenya 1995–97) who went with her new husband to East Africa. Publishers Weekly called the book, “Engaging travel literature, a witty exploration of modern women’s lives, and a testament to the power and blessing of friendship.“ Booklist summed up the exchanges of letters this way: “Hilary learns to live independently, to discern lust from love, and to deal with an unbalanced neighbor as she starts her career and social life. Kate battles malaria, student riots, and the language barrier as she and her husband begin teaching at a large, rural, Kenya high school . . .. In the age of e-mail, it is nice to see a relationship strong enough to be sustained through real mail.” Dear Exile
Well known and well-respected science fiction and fantasy writer Suzy McKee Charnas (Nigeria 1961–63) is back with a new book. In May, Tor Books published The Slave and the Free, an omnibus trade paperback edition of Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines, and The Conqueror’s Child. In 1997, she published The Ruby Tear under the pen name Rebecca Brand. This was a vampire book.
Another Nigeria writer, Bill Shurtleff (Nigeria 1964–65) makes his living writing about soyfoods. His best known book, The Book of Tofu, written with his ex-wife Akiko, was published in 1975 and continues to sell. Bill also wrote a book about his Peace Corps tour, including a chapter on Dr. Albert Schweitzer with whom he worked while in Lambarene, Gabon. Published in Germany, this book — A Peace Corps Year with Nigerians — is now out-of-print, but available from Shurtleff.
In January Harcourt Brace published Saviors by Paul Eggers (Malaysia 1967–68). This debut novel focuses on the lives of two Americans working and living in a Vietnamese refugee camp on an island near Malaysia during the late nineteen eighties. Barnes and Noble selected it for their Winter 1999 Great New Writers program which introduces new literary authors to the reading public. Saviors is based on Eggers’ real-life experience in Bidong where he spent 1981 as a PCV teaching English. The previous year he worked in Bataan in the Philippines, an Indo-Chinese refugee camp. Eggers is the author of several short stories and a novella. His writings have been published in Granta, The Quarterly, The Sonora Review, Northwest Review and the William and Mary Review. Currently, he teaches literature, composition, and fiction writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Last year in the American Literary Review, he published an issue on Eileen Drew’s (Zaire 1979–81) award winning novel The Ivory Crocodile. Saviors
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