Our Writing Awards

    EVERY YEAR SINCE 1990, RPCV Writers & Readers and now PeaceCorpsWriters.org have been giving awards for the best books written by RPCVs that were published during the previous year. The awards include: the Paul Cowan Nonfiction Award, named in honor of journalist Paul Cowan (Ecuador 1966–67), the Maria Thomas Fiction Award, named in honor of novelist Maria Thomas (Ethiopia 1971–73), and the Peace Corps Writers Poetry Award. We usually have a Peace Corps Experience Award for an outstanding one-page essay, but unfortunately this year there was no winner.

    Nonfiction Award
    Winner Nonfiction Award is Mango Elephants in the Sun: How Life in an African Village Let Me Be in My Skin by Susana Herrera (Cameroon 1992-94).
         In a review in the November, 1999 issue of PeaceCorpsWriters.org, Paula Hirschoff called Mango Elephants, Herrera’s first book, “a spiritual journey from self doubt, fear and anger to acceptance and forgiveness.”
         Writing in Amazon.com, another reader says, “After reading the book I went to northern Cameroon in March 2000 on a humanitarian mission with the Air Force. It was just coincidence that I went to the same general area as the book. Reading this book gave me a greater understanding of the people and culture. Everything in the book rang true, the poverty, the close families, the emphasis on class, the small town doctors, and the basic generosity of the people. Her honest narrative and personal approach to her subject is unmatched. I felt her friendship and frustration. Her friends became my friends and it left me wishing for an undate on how they are today. This is a book about two years of a person’s life. Cameroon and the Peace Corps are just the framework. Her writing was so vivid I now would read anything by her no matter what the subject.”

    Fiction Award
    The fiction award goes to Saviors by Paul Eggers (Malaysia 1976–78).
         Jane Smiley, writing in The San Francisco Chronicle, says of the novel, “Saviors does beautifully exactly what a novel is best equipped to do, which is to show something large and true with tools that are detailed and specific. Eggers is a first novelist of rare taste and intelligence as well as rare experience.”

    Poetry Award
    The poetry award goes to Philip Dacey (Nigeria 1964–66) for his collection The Deathbed Playboy. Dacey’s five previous books of poetry include The Boy Under the Bed, and The Man With Red Suspenders. He co-edited Strong Measures: Contemporary American Poetry in Traditional Forms. The latest of his many chapbooks is What’s Empty Weights the Most: 24 Sonnets.
    Widely published in periodicals and anthologies, Dacey teaches at the Minnesota State University in Marshall. His awards include two NEA fellowships, two Pushcart Prizes, Bush and Loft-McKnight fellowships, and a Fulbright Lectureship in Yugoslavia, as well as prizes from Poetry Northwest, Yankee, Prairie Schooner, Flyway, and The Nebraska Review.
         Our congratulations to these fine writers.

    And The Winner Is . . .
    “Without going home and looking it up in my copy of The Zinzin Road,” Ken Otteson (Liberia 1972-73) emailed, “it sure seems like your ‘quote’ in the last issue came from that novel written by Fletcher Knebel. By the time I was in Liberia in the early ’70s, the book was banned, but that didn’t stop copies from circulating from one PCV to another.”
         You got it right, Ken. And you were first to e-mail me. Meredith Dalebout (Niger 1983–85) came in a close second. Thank you both for responding.
         For those who don’t know, The Zinzin Road was set in Liberia and based on journalist Fletcher Knebel’s experience as a Peace Corps evaluator in the early 1960s. There are some RPCVs who think that this is the best “Peace Corps novel.”

    Okay, let’s make it a little tougher.
    Who wrote this paragraph from a Peace Corps book?

      They took us in the Land Rover, Mike and me, with Kim Buck driving. We had planned to leave that morning, as it was a good four hours’ drive, although it was only about sixty miles from Mbeya. But it had taken us the whole morning just to buy our supplies — tins of paraffin oil, as there was no electricity, they had said, packets of tinned meat and vegetables and fruit and bread, as they weren’t exactly sure what the food situation would be like down there, things for the house like chairs and paint and brushes and nails, a hammer, ropes, string, soap, a basin, a bucket — all things I would never have thought to buy but that Mike said were necessary. And then trying to fit it all into the Land Rover, with Kim Buck muttering we were going to be late as hell, giving orders which neither of us could understand, to place this inside the door here, no, not there, and that underneath this and this on top of that . . .

    In the July issue of PeaceCorpsWriters.org
    A Writer Writes
    One pleasure of receiving email is that from time to time I’m sent a wonderful piece of writing. This month it comes from Turkey. Ginger Taylor Saçlioglu was an English teacher at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara from 1968–70. Today she lives with her husband and cat in Istanbul where she works as a free lance translator and English teacher. Ginger is one of those RPCVs who never came home. She is also a writer who remembers. Read “For Love of Ankara” in our column, A Writer Writes.

    Letters Home
    This month we have a letter from Ethiopia by Kathleen M. Moore Ethiopia (1965–67) — well, it’s not actually a letter. For those of us who should have written home but didn’t, Kathleen explains why we didn’t.

    Travel Right
    Mike Tidwell (Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1985–87) recently sent us a piece from his soon-to-be-published collection of travel essays, In The Mountains Of Heaven: Unlikely Journeys On Six Continents. We are pleased to publish anything by Tidwell, especially a travel essay.

    A Little Peace Corps History
    In each issue, we attempt to pull back from time bits and pieces of our collective past. This month, we quote from an editorial in the Times Herald of Norristown, PA. published on February 15, 1962. The Peace Corps was a year old, and Sargent Shriver had just advised Congress of plans for 10,000 Volunteers serving overseas or in training by the end of August, 1963. He supported a Peace Corps request for a budget increase for the agency from the $30 million for 1962 to nearly $64 million for fiscal 1963.
         It was at that same time that President Alberto Lieras Comargo of Colombia said: “The Peace Corps is the finest way in which the United States could prove to the humble people of this and other lands that the primary purpose of this international program is to build a better life in all of the free world’s villages and neighborhoods.”|
         The Times Herald, however, would have something else to say about the Peace Corps. You can read their editorial in this issue — and more by going to the Current Issue.

    — John Coyne, editor

    P.S. And many, many thanks to all of you who have contributed to our own Roundtable of support for this site.