Peace Corps Writers
Talking with . . .
Jeffrey Tayler
To order any of Jeffrey's books, go to his name in our Bibliography of Peace Corps Writers

Jeffrey Tayler

JEFFREY TAYLER (Morocco 1988–90; PC/Staff Poland 1992, Uzbekistan 1992–93) is the author of Siberian Dawn, and, just out, Facing the Congo. He has published numerous articles in such magazines as Atlantic Monthly, Spin, Harper’s, and Conde´ Nast Traveler, and is a regular commentator on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Two of Tayler’s travel essays were selected by Bill Bryson for the 2000 inaugural edition of The Best American Travel Writing 2000. Today Tayler lives in Russia. I interviewed him by email about his new book and his writing career.
  What was your Peace Corps assignment?

  I was a Volunteer in Marrakech, Morocco, from 1988 to ’90. In mid 1992, after a stint as a sort of assistant administrative officer in Warsaw, Peace Corps sent me to Uzbekistan, with several other staff members, to open a program there. I left Tashkent in 1993.
As a Volunteer, were you a teacher?
  At first, I was an instructor in blind mobility, but the school was not interested in having me do that (they wanted me to teach English, for which I was not trained). After a major mess and brouhaha with my supervisor in Rabat and sharp words with my school director, who was a tyrannical dolt, I was allowed to teach blind mobility. But that only lasted the first year. At the start of the second year, the director ordered me to teach English. I promptly reassigned myself elsewhere in the community: I worked as the administrative assistant for a local association of parents of handicapped children, and enjoyed it.
  Have you published much (or anything) about your Peace Corps experience?
For a listing of many of Jeffrey's articles for
click here.
I’ve written a few stories for about, well, I wouldn’t say about the Peace Corps, but rather, about things that happened to me as a Volunteer and a staff member. They are “Save Me, Wild Qahba!,” “Perils of the Harem,” and “Escape from Tashkent” — all concern failed love and deceit and lust, mixed in with clashes of cultures.
     My time with the Peace Corps in Tashkent figured in the opening of my first book, Siberian Dawn. It was in Tashkent (and Moscow, which I had to visit frequently while working in Uzbekistan) that I conceived of the journey recounted in the book, after realizing that my participation in any sort of Peace Corps program in the former Soviet Union was untenable and wrong.
What was the first article you sold to a national publication?
Click here and search on "Tayler" to find the many articles Jeffrey has done for The Atlantic Monthly. To The Atlantic Monthly [September 1996], I sold “Vessel of Last Resort.” an account of part of my time on the Congo River in Zaire. That sale was the start of both a very gratifying and instructive relationship with that magazine and my professional career as a writer.
How did your first book come about?
Ever since I was a teenager, Russia, Russians, Russian literature, and Russian history have played a role in my life that no one else or nothing ever would equal. Most of my heroes were Russian — Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov among them; many of my favorite writers and works of literature were Russian; my favorite poets and bards were Russian. Soviet émigrés to the United States I met in the 1980s taught me what the words “risk” and “courage” really meant — these friends were not much older than I was, but what they had gone through before and after leaving the Soviet Union made them far wiser and mature than I could ever have hoped to be. They also instilled in me the belief that you must be willing to risk everything for what you believe in.
Siberian Dawn      All of that prompted me to set out across Russia on the trip described in Siberian Dawn — a book that was not a travelogue per se, but an account of a dream fulfilled, if a very traumatic and poignant one involving a long journey. When I reached Poland after some 8,000 miles of wandering across Russia and Ukraine, I turned around and came back to Moscow, rented an apartment, and started writing. I had not been an avid reader of travelogues before, so I just wrote about what I saw and felt, without much regard to genre.
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