Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Sarah Erdman (page 3)
 Talking with Sarah Erdman
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page 2
page 3

 
What “Peace Corps books” have you read?
The whole time I was writing my book, I refused to read Peace Corps books, or any books about Africa for that matter. I didn’t want any outside
influence at all. When I was first invited to Peace Corps, however, I dashed out to the nearest book store to look for books on West Africa. The only relevant one at the Border’s in Chicago was The Ponds of Kalambayi, by Mike Tidwell, so that was my introduction to Peace Corps literature. Later on I found George Packer’s The Village of Waiting by chance in a used book store. Those two books were my first taste of Africa, and I found myself referencing them quite a bit during my first few months as a Volunteer. Since I finished my manuscript, I’ve of course read Peter Hessler’s River Town, and I’ve been instructed to pick up Living Poor as soon as I can get my hands on it. The difference is that now I read them to see how the authors presented the similar themes that run through the Peace Corps experience.
  Do you see yourself as another Peter Hessler or Mike Tidwell?
   I really love to write, and I think to a certain extent it comes naturally. Henry Miller called it “exquisite torture,” and I can’t think of a better description. It’s a pretty incredible process — full of passion and frustration and elation all within minutes of each other sometimes. Exhausting at times, really, but it feels meaningful and true to myself. Am I another Peter Hessler or Mike Tidwell? I’d be flattered if people saw parallels, but I think I’m mostly just me.
What advice would you give PCVs now who hope to write a book about their experience?
Write now. Don’t put it off because you’re tired or the kerosene is low. Write as soon as things happen to you, and write a lot, even when not much is happening. I think it’s also important not to think of your writing as a manuscript. Most of my stories come straight from journals and letters home — so they were less self-conscious, more honest, more natural, and I think that’s what made them work. In terms of turning writings into a manuscript, the process is different for everyone.
     Two things I could not have done without are isolation and a defined time period. It’s hard to be disciplined without any structure, as I’m sure many RPCVs will agree. What helps is having a space that you associate with writing and a set amount of time to get the writing done. It also helps if the stories are still fresh.
What are you doing now?
I am working in the Placement Office at Peace Corps/Washington, sending people off to be Volunteers in Africa. I am also figuring out how to visit my parents who just moved to Algeria, and sketching out the first steps for my next book.
Do you have another book planned?
Yes — a few actually. I’d like to somehow marry writing and third world development work so I’m looking for opportunities to go overseas again. For now, though, I have something entirely different up my sleeve.
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