Peace Corps Writers: page 1

May 2003

WE HAVE WEATHERED a snowy winter here on the East Coast, but finally we have Spring and as the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote

Nothing is so beautiful as spring —
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush.”

We greet you with a “lush” May issue, full of news, humor, political wisdom, fresh insights and, as always from RPCVs writers, great writing. But first the news . . .

Peace Corps country director wins United Nations literary prize
Andrew Oerke (staff: Tanzania, Uganda, CD-Malawi, CD Jamaica 1966–71) has won the Literary Prize of Excellence from the United Nations Society of Writers & Artists. On March 21, 2003, UN Under Secretary General Gillian Sorensen presented the award, and Oerke read from his yet-to-be-published books African Stiltdancers and San Miguel D'Allende.
     Oerke, who has been published in The New Yorker, The New Republic, Poetry, Mademoiselle, and other leading magazines, is a Golden Gloves champ, football player, university professor, Korean War vet, U.N. Gulf War consultant, and Peace Corps Country Director. A feature article on him in The New York Times called him a poet “whose muse is a world traveler.” The panel of judges included Norman Mailer, Hans Janitscheck, Bhikshuni Weisbrod and several others. Andrew Oerke is the first poet to be awarded the U.N. Literary Prize. With Andrew’s permission, we are reprinting three of his poems from his collection, African Stiltdancers.

A Writer Writes (Humorously)
Tina Martin (Tonga 1969–71) has written some wonderful pieces about her Peace Corps experience in Tonga. In one paragraph she has the ability to be sad, funny, and break you heart, and do it all without splitting an infinitive. In this issue, we are pleased to publish her creative non-fiction piece, “God, Kennedy, and Me” that shows that some people will do almost anything to get into the Peace Corps — even pray.

Two Ethiopia RPCVs speak out
“First generation” RPCVs from Ethiopia I, Dick Lipez (Ethiopia 1962-64) and Leo Cecchini (Ethiopia 1962-64), weight in on separate issues involving the Peace Corps, the recent war, and all of us. These thoughtful pieces are published here as our way of continuing the discussion about the impact and relevance of the agency.
     After his Peace Corps tour in Ethiopia, Lipez was an evaluator for the agency for several years before becoming a full time writer. His latest novel, Tongue Tied, written under the name Richard Stevenson, has just been published, and he is also an editorial writer for the Berkshire Eagle. The article we publish here appeared earlier this month in the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual RPCVs Newsletter (www.lgbrpcv.org) and it is reprinted with their kind permission.
     After his Peace Corps years in Asmara, Eritrea, Leo Cecchini was a Foreign Service Officer for 25 years in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas, as well as in Washington, D.C. He is on the Board of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) and the Vice President of Ethiopia & Eritrea RPCVs. He lives most of the year in Florida.

(Note: We welcome other short essays or commentaries on or about the Peace Corps or the role of RPCVs today.)

Paraguay RPCV speaks of RPCV writers at international colloquium
“Writing American” is the title of a paper Mark Jacobs (Paraguay 1978–80) delivered earlier this May. It was given at the 20th Annual American Studies Colloquium held on Goree Island off the coast of Senegal, and which included Americanists of various disciplines from 14 African countries. The two participating Americans were Professor Richard Horwitz, an American studies scholar from the University of Iowa, and novelist and Foreign Service Officer Jacobs.
     In his essay, which we are publishing in this issue, Mark makes the point that “Peace Corps writers” are influenced by their experience, using Norm Rush, Marnie Mueller, Paul Eggers, Maria Thomas and other RPCV writers as examples.
     At the colloquium, Mark also read from the U.S. State Department publication Writers on America which he initiated at State, and from his most recent book, The Liberation of Little Heaven. In January 2004, his next novel, A Handful of Kings will be published.

Also in this issue . . .
Our project to publish the readings from the “Journals of Peace” continues with another set of touching and insightful statements presented by RPCVs on the 25th anniversary of JFK’s death. We also have “A Letter from . . .” Nicaragua written by Roderick Jones (Nicaragua 1992–96). There are new books to buy, new reviews of books written by RPCVs, and“ Literary Type,” a column that always has something interesting about what Peace Corps writers are doing around the world. And, finally, Andy Trincia (Romania 2002–  ) is back with his Peace Corps adventures in Romania.

And remember: PeaceCorpsWriters.org will be holding several writing workshops at the National Peace Corps Association & Columbia River Peace Corps Association meeting in Portland, Oregon over the weekend of August 1–3, 2003. If you plan on attending, and have an interest in being on a writing panel, please contact me at: jpcoyne@cnr.edu.

Now, back to the reading.

— John Coyne
Editor