Peace Corps Writers
Talking with . . .
Mark Jacobs

Mark Jacobs

An interview by John Coyne
WHEN I FIRST MET MARK JACOBS (Paraguay 1978–80), he reminded me of Thomas Wolfe (the real Tom Wolfe of Look Homeward, Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again) — big and slightly ungainly with a quiet brooding presence, a thickPrinter friendly version wedge of dark hair and a massive face. A hulk of a guy. There is something of Wolfe in Mark’s prose, the luxury of his language and the way Mark fills a page with wonderful details, but Jacobs is a much more disciplined writer, and more inventive.
     We met in Union Station in Washington, D.C. where I had been waiting for him in that beautiful, vaulted marble main lobby and he came in out of the sunlight of the city, a towering figure and I thought: now there’s a guy who looks like a writer! And truly he is one. He joins a small band of first-rate intellects and creative minds who served in the Peace Corps and came home to write brilliantly about the world.
Mark Jacobs in the Bibliography of Peace Corps Writers      The famous editor Maxwell Perkins once said of Thomas Wolfe: “His own physical dimensions were huge; so was his conception of a book.” That’s Mark Jacobs. He has published short stories, essays and novels — including A Handful of Kings, coming out in February.
     And he has done all that while working as a cultural attaché and information officer in Spain, Turkey, and several posts in Latin America, in addition to raising a family and living a full life beyond books and writing.
     They tell a story of Thomas Wolfe when he lived in New York on First Avenue. Late one night the writer Nancy Hale, who lived on East 49th Street near Third Avenue, heard a kind of chant, which grew louder. She got up and looked out of the window at two or three in the morning and there was the great figure of Thomas Wolfe, advancing in his long countryman’s stride, with his swaying black raincoat, and what he was chanting was, “I wrote ten thousand words today — I wrote ten thousand words today.”
That’s Mark Jacobs!
  Where are you from, Mark? What was your education?
    I was born in Niagara Falls, New York and went to school in Michigan at Alma College. From there I went to the School for International Training in Vermont for a Masters in International Administration, and earned a Ph.D. in English from Drew University in New Jersey.
   Where were you in the Peace Corps?
In Paraguay from 1978 to 1980 I worked in an isolated rural village doing “community development,” which translated into a school construction project. I did have the great good fortune to return to Paraguay as public affairs officer in the U.S. embassy years later and was able to rekindle the friendships and relationships with people from the village I’d worked in, Potrero Yapepo.
Did you join the Foreign Service right after the Peace Corps?
No, right after the Peace Corps I went to graduate school. I took the foreign service examination while I was at Drew University but didn’t get a job offer until I had left the university and was working in a computer company in New York. I started out with the U.S. Information Agency, but joined the State Department when USIA was abolished by Congress in 1999.
How many years were you with the foreign service?
A total of eighteen. I served in Ankara and Izmir, Turkey; Asuncion, Paraguay; La Paz, Bolivia; Tegucigalpa, Honduras; and Madrid, Spain.
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