Peace Corps Writers
Talking with . . .
. . . Poets
An interview by John Coyne
BARBARA KERLEY KELLEY (Nepal 1981–83) lives one of those perfect lives many of us dream about. She is a wife, mother, and writer, and all in Northern California. Barbara and her family live 80 miles from the Oregon border, in a little coastal community called McKinleyville.Printer friendly version Her house is two miles from the beach and long empty stretches of sand and rocky cliffs with huge redwood trees in the distance. Barbara met her husband, Scott Kelley, in Nepal. While they trained together, they didn’t become an “item” until the last months of service. Today, Scott owns a small engineering firm in McKinleyville and they have a daughter, Anna, now 13, who was born in Guam.
     Most recently Barbara has been working in the Special Education department of the local high school and when not writing, she does everything that a writer does: grocery shopping, the laundry, making dinner, and reviewing vocabulary words with Anna.
     Besides all that, there is hiking, biking, canoeing, and community work. Barbara is the president of the local Friends of the Library and Scott is helping to build a skate park. Barbara’s personal desire for self-improvement has gotten her recently to teach herself how to play the banjo and so far she had mastered “Good Night, Ladies,” and “Boil ’Em Cabbage Down.” Between “sets” we caught up with Barbara and asked about her life in the Peace Corps and the books she has written for children.
  Where did you serve as a PCV?
    In Nepal. I was there from 1981 to 1983 teaching math and science and also English in a rural secondary school.
Why did you join the Peace Corps?
Well, I didn’t expect to change the world, but I did hope to make a positive contribution. And I had a role model in my sister, who served in Kenya in the ’70s. It felt like she and her future husband, another Kenya Volunteer, were doing a good thing. Also, their experience also sounded interesting, exotic, life-changing.
     After college I was interested in teaching but didn’t want to head straight into a credential program. I also wasn’t really excited about entering the traditional, white-collar work force. It looked like all my friends were just getting entry-level office jobs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it felt to me like more of the same office work I’d been doing part-time while I was a student.
     I also knew that I’d had a privileged childhood. My dad was a lawyer. I grew up in a very comfortable suburb of Washington, D.C. I knew that most of the rest of the world didn’t live like that, but had no real idea what that meant in concrete, day-to-day terms. This sounds kinda corny, but I wanted to get a better global understanding of people. I remember telling a friend’s mom that I wanted to find out what was “American” and what was “human” — in other words, I wanted to gain some perspective on the lifestyle and attitudes I took for granted.
When did you start writing “seriously”?
From the Center of the Earth
I’d say in the mid-’80s. I wrote a series of short stories about my time in Nepal, three of which were published, including one in a collection called From the Center of the Earth: Stories Out of the Peace Corps, which was edited by an RPCV named Geraldine Kennedy (Liberia 1962–64).
     At that time, I was writing for adults. But after I had my daughter in 1989, I began, for the first time in many years, to read children’s books again. By the time Anna was 2 or 3, I’d made the switch to kidlit. I haven’t looked back.
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