Peace Corps Writers: Front Page 7/2005

The 2005 Award Winners —
We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2005 Peace Corps Writers Awards.

Paul Cowan Non-Fiction Award
The Importance of Being Famous: Behind the Scenes of the Celebrity-Industrial Complex

by Maureen Orth  (Colombia 1964–66)

Maria Thomas Fiction Award
This Is Not Civilization
by Robert Rosenberg (Kyrgyzstan 1994–96)

Award for Best Poetry Book
The Way They Say Yes Here
by Jacqueline Lyons (Lesotho 1992–95)

Award for Best Children’s Writing
The Biggest Soap
by Carole Lexa Schaefer (Micronesia 1967–69)

Moritz Thomsen Peace Corps Experience Award
“The Things I Gave Her”
by Lisa Kahn Schnell (Ghana 1998–2000)

Winners receive a special citation and cash awards from Peace Corps Writers, an Associate Member of the National Peace Corps Association. Our congratulations to all the winners and all the RPCVs who published books in 2005.

Books by RPCV writers to be featured at fund raiser
Over 35 RPCV authors have already donated signed copies of their books to be auctioned off at the first annual Peace Corps Fund “Living a Life of Service” celebration. The celebration will recognize RPCVs who in their careers as outstanding teachers in New York City have provided a domestic dividend to their Peace Corps service overseas. Caroline Kennedy is the Honorary Chair of this event taking place on September 29th at the historic Puck Building in New York City.
     A special feature of the evening will be international cuisine — food and wine from the five continents where Peace Corps Volunteeers have served.
     Contact Stacey Flanagan (Costa Rica 1994–97) at: slflanny@aol.com if you:

  • Would like to nominate a “Peace Corps teacher” who taught or is teaching in Greater New York City.
  • Are an author who would like to donate one of your signed books for the auction.
  • Have a Peace Corps country artifact that you would like to donate for the auction.
  • Would like to purchase a ticket to attend.

Check out the Peace Corps Fund at www.PeaceCorpsFund.org

Award Winning Essays
Over 40 RPCVs applied for the two writing scholarships to attend the international known and well respected non-fiction writing workshop at Goucher College. These scholarships were sponsored by Peace Corps Writers. According to the college, “selection was very difficult” and the two winners, both women, represent some of the best writing that is being done by RPCV writers.
     Winner Melissa Moses (Lesotho 2002–04) is from Colorado and attended the University of Colorado in Boulder. She was an education Volunteer in Africa. Working, she said, “with wonderful and dedicated early childhood teachers.”
    While not familiar with our website, Melissa learned about the Peace Corps Writers scholarship from an announcement in the Peace Corps’ Hotline. “I sent in a story that was very personal, describing my feelings of vulnerability. While I loved my experience in Lesotho, there were definitely periods when I didn’t quite know how I was going to make it through the day.”
     The second winner was Kathleen Moore (Ethiopia 1964–66). Kathleen is an old friend of our website. She submitted a section of her manuscript about her experiences in a small village in Ethiopia, entitled “Seasons.” Kathleen writes, “It is about the rain pounding on the tin roof of our classroom, the students taking shelter and singing until the rain stopped, and a little boy who never came to school but at 8 years old was the poet laureate of Emdeber. The essay is also about the festival Meskal and prayers and religion and how much alike were my religious upbringing and that of the Guragi people in Emdeber.”
     Both women sent us their winning essays to share with our readers and we wish them a productive and (hopefully cool) time in Baltimore, Maryland on the beautiful campus of Goucher College.
     And, yes, we want to continue this scholarship for RPCV writers to attend the Goucher Nonfiction Summer Writing Workshop. It all depends on whether we can raise the money to make the scholarship possible. And in that regard, we thank all the members of the Writers & Readers Roundtable who over the years continue to support the work of Peace Corps Writers.

And then Sarge said to me

Charles Baquet III (Somalia 1965–67) retired several years ago from the Foreign Service. His last overseas tour was as the Ambassador to Djibouti, and he then served for five years as the Deputy Director of the Peace Corps. Today Chuck is the Director of the Center for Intercultural and International Programs at Xavier University of Louisiana. Here Chuck recalls what Sarge Shriver said to him in the fall of 1993.

IN EARLY FALL 1993 I was at the Embassy in Djibouti when I got a call from the White House asking me if I were interested in serving as Peace Corps Deputy Director. It took me about ten seconds to say yes! The Department of State sent travel orders and I returned to Washington to report to the White House personnel office. There I dutifully settled into filling out forms and experiencing interviews conducted by young White House staffers who evidenced a lack of knowledge of where it was I served or just what it was I did for the Clinton administration.
    Just after lunch on day two, I rotated back to the White House staffer who originally interviewed me. He asked me if I knew Sargent Shriver and then handed me a slip of paper with an address, a phone number and he suggested that I make an appointment to interview with Mr. Shriver.
     My first Foreign Service assignment had been to Embassy Paris when Sarge was our Ambassador there. I wasn’t sure if this tasking was a joke or a test but I pocketed the slip of paper looking forward to seeing my ambassador again.
     I had not anticipated first meeting Sarge’s famous secretary, fondly called by everyone who wanted to see Sarge, “the Gatekeeper from Hell.” She was tough and determined not to permit anyone even a couple of minutes with Sarge. Just as I was about to give up, Sarge breezed in. He introduced himself, I explained who I was then he led me back to his office. He initiated our interview which was more like a general interrogation about African affairs.
     Sarge asked about my work in Djibouti and how the Horn of Africa had faired since the departure of Said Barre of Somalia and Mengheistu of Ethiopia. He asked about my assignment to Cape Town, Mendela’s health and U.S. involvement’s in South Africa as we all worked towards the run-up to the referendum that would create the new Republic of South Africa. We talked about the growing HIV/AIDS crisis, the dearth of primary health care delivery systems and the compelling need for education reform continent wide.
     At about this point Mrs. Shriver stuck her head in the office to remind Sarge that they were due at the White House in half an hour. As he changed his tie, he allowed as how he enjoyed our conversation and asked if he could do anything for me.
     Immediately I asked for his recommendation to the White House for the Deputy’s position at Peace Corps. He advised that he thought that I should be Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa. I responded that that position was already filled and that I wanted to serve as Deputy Director of the Peace Corps. And then Sarge said to me, “I don’t make recommendations to the White House. That is a political activity which I avoid as best I can.” Mrs. Shriver then reappeared at the door ready to go and they left for the White House.
      Somewhat dejected, I remember sitting in his office watching early evening traffic build and the city’s lights come on. Finally, I dragged myself back to my hotel and went to bed.
      Rising early, I determined to execute plan B: return to White House personnel to do my travel voucher, turn in papers and try to book an evening flight to Paris enroute back to my embassy in Djibouti.
     Arriving at the personnel office, I was greeted with “where the hell have you been? We tried all evening to contact you.” I said that I did not think that my meeting with Sarge went particularly well so I decided to call it a day. He gave me a quizzical look and asked if I knew that Mrs. Shriver was honored last evening by the White House for the work she does with mentally/physically challenged Americans through the Special Olympics? It seems that while the President, Mrs. Clinton and the Shrivers were in a holding area, prior to the commencement of ceremonies, Sarge bent the President’s ear about the U.S. ambassador to Djibouti, someone who could easily serve as an assistant secretary, currently visiting White House personnel talking about a job in the administration. “You know,” my White House personnel minder said, “we didn’t expect that you would get to see Sargent Shriver. As far as we know you are the only candidate who did.” Then he handed me another appointment slip. “You are scheduled to meet this morning with Senator Chris Dodd’s foreign affairs staffer for a pre-confirmation hearing get-to-know-you meeting. If this meeting goes as badly as the one you had with Mr. Shriver, you will soon be our next Peace Corps Deputy Director.”

In This Issue
July has been a long time coming, or as we use to say in Ethiopia, “Ishi, nege,” but here is the issue, and it is jammed with wonderful pieces of writing and news, all of it good. Check out the six book reviews, the list of 21 new books, and two essays by RPCV writers who contributed to our “A Writer Writes” column. They are The Fireflies of Kalai by Christine Taylor (Namibia 1999-2000) and “Scouts” by Katherine Jamieson (Guyana 1996-98). PLUS the two scholarship winning essays.
     We also interviewed the charming and very successful novelist, Lucia St. Clair Robson (Venezuela 1964–66), who has made a career out of writing historical novels. Richard Lipez (Ethiopia 1962-64) writes about what it is like to see his book made into a TV movie. It will be shown nationally this fall on HereTV.
     For our on-going series by RPCVs who were both in the military (Vietnam mostly) and the Peace Corps, we publish David Gurr’s (Ethiopia 1962-64) essay: Footprints in the Sand: My Time in Vietnam. And don’t forget to check out Literary Type. We have great news about new books and stories appearing on-line, and in hardback.
     And for those old enough to remember, we have The Zinzin Road by Fletcher Knebel (PC/Evaluation 1964), this month’s selection in the Book Locker.
     Sorry we are late for July, but you’ll see when you read the issue, it was worth the wait.

— John Coyne, Editor