Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Elsa Watson (page 2)
 Talking with
Elsa Watson
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What was your village like?
Galomaro was the end of the public transportation line, so it was a hub of sorts for the smaller villages in the forest around it. It had a small market, a tiny school, and two tailors. Like many places in Guinea-Bissau, it contained a mix of people: most were Fula, but our host family was Mandinka, and the girl down the road who sold us millet porridge was Serekunde. It’s a very rural town, right next to the rice fields, with goats and cows wandering through the market and monkeys within sight of our yard.
Have you thought about writing about your Peace Corps experience?
I’ve written a few short stories set in Guinea-Bissau, but I find the Peace Corps experience very difficult to write about. Even five years after returning, my memories are so full of emotion that it’s hard to pull them apart. A good story requires just a few, well-chosen details; it’s almost impossible for me to winnow my memories down sufficiently to make a story. At the same time, because turmoil was such a real part of life there, it’s painful to frame a story that’s tense and full of conflict. My mind rebels every time (that’s not fiction, that’s reality!). I find it much easier to let my imagination roam in a place and time I’ve never seen (medieval England, say) than to write about problems and people that are all too real in memory.
     I intend, however, to keep trying. One day, with enough distance, I hope to write something that reflects at least one aspect of either the Peace Corps life or of Guinean life. At the moment I content myself with weaving bits of my experience into my other stories. For example, there is a section in Maid Marian in which our heroine spends the night with a poor, farming family. As she meets the family, Marian is struck by much of the awkward shyness I felt when I went to my first host-family. At night, she combats more mundane problems: sharing a bed with the rest of the family; rats racing around in the roof-thatch. All of this was drawn from things I remember in Guinea-Bissau.
Well, with that segue from the Peace Corps to Maid Marian, let’s talk about your novel. What inspired you to retell the Maid Marian/Robin Hood story?
Maid Marian has intrigued me since childhood. I’ve always been a fan of the Robin Hood story, but I could never understand why so much of the attention went to Robin, and so little to Marian. It struck me as strange that her name is so well known, yet no one has a sense of her character beyond her role as Robin Hood’s consort. Once it occurred to me to write her story myself, I couldn’t let the idea rest. I wanted to show how complex her own life might have been, and how she might have struggled with the choices she made.
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