Peace Corps Writers
Talking with . . .
Sarah Erdman
 

Glory in the Camel's Eye

Read Mike Tidwell’s review of Nine Hills

An interview by John Coyne
SARAH ERDMAN’S GIFT for language came to my attention when she emailed me a short essay “The Guissongui Show” that we published in our September 2002 issue. Sarah wrote at the time that she had recently returned from Cote d’Ivoire,Printer friendly version where she had been a health Volunteer from 1998–2000, and was finishing up a collection of stories about her experience. Like all good writers, she disappeared into her work, but I began to hear about her from other writers, including Peter Hessler, and then her agent called to tell me he had sold this “collection of stories” by Sarah to Henry Holt & Company, a major New York publishing house. A few months later, her editor sent me the galleys of Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. Sarah’s editor continued to send me good news about Nine Hills, mentioning that the book had been selected by Borders Books in their program highlighting “innovative and ambitious books from new and emerging talents.” Next, Barnes & Noble selected Nine Hills for their “Discover Great New Writers” program that introduces “dynamic new literary authors.” In this issue, we are publishing a review of Sarah’s book and have this interview about the author herself.
   
  Im told that your father was a PCV.
    Yes, my father was an English teacher in Turkey from 1967–69. It certainly changed his life, and put him on track for a career overseas as a foreign service officer. Growing up with his stories, it seemed pretty much inevitable that I’d end up a Volunteer too. Incidentally my brother is currently applying. I think it’s in the blood.
   Where have you lived overseas?
My bio on the book jacket says eight countries, but I can only count seven, and I’m not quite sure who’s responsible for the inflation! I’ve lived in Cyprus, former Yugoslavia, Portugal, France, Israel, Cote d’Ivoire, and of course, the States in between.
Did you go to college in the States?
I went to Middlebury College in Vermont and majored in history with an art history minor.
What led you to the Peace Corps?
Sarah and some kids
Well, as I said, it was sort of in my blood, and then having spent a lot of my childhood abroad, it just seemed like the most natural thing for me to do. What appealed to me about Peace Corps was the idea that I would be living at the level of the community. I felt it was very important in understanding myself to see how well I could do living at a basic level, starting my life there from scratch. Also, I appreciated the fact that once at a site it was up to me and the community — and not a distant development agency — to figure out what kinds of projects to start.
   . . . and your assignment?
   I was a rural health extension Volunteer in the village of Nambonkaha. That’s in northern Cote d’Ivoire.
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