Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Tony D’Sousa (page 5)
 Talking with
Tony D’Sousa
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What Peace Corps writers have impressed you?

I’ve read lots and lots of Peace Corps books, fiction and non. Moritz Thomsen blows me away. Both Theroux and Shacochis figured largely in my decision to join the Peace Corps. Recently, I loved PF Kluge’s Biggest Elvis. I had no idea he had been in the Peace Corps from that book, and was really proud when I found out. I think a worry for a lot of us is that we’ll be pigeon holed or dismissed as “Peace Corps writers.” I certainly want more out of my career than to be That Guy Who Went to Africa and Wrote That Book. I look to guys like Rush, WileyTidwell, Hessler and know that it doesn’t have to be that way. Of course writers join the Peace Corps. What would writers be if they didn’t want to know the world? 

Sorry I have to ask this, but what did you think of Nine Hills to Nambonkaha by Sarah Erdman?

Oh Lordy. I don’t want to talk about Nine Hills. Everybody asks me about it with a raised eyebrow like they expect us to be in some sort of competition. What Sarah and I are doing is apples and oranges. But of course my heart sunk when I first heard that her book had come out. Then I read it praying that it wasn’t going leave me any room to say something of my own about Cote d’Ivoire. I quickly saw that it was a completely different thing, non-fiction, about a pre-conflict Cote d’Ivoire that I didn’t recognize. I couldn’t enjoy it at the time because I was worried we were going to be fighting over the same literary territory. I know we’ll eventually cross paths. I wonder how that will be. Congratulatory from both sides, certainly. When you have two books on the same subject, you know people are going to wonder which one is more authoritative. Asking me about Nine Hills is either very unfair, or reveals me for the small person I am, or both. It’s like you have this really great mousetrap that you put your heart and soul into designing, and just when you are about to unveil it, someone taps you on the shoulder and says, “Hey, did you hear about So&So’s mousetrap? I heard it’s pretty good.” 
     
When I saw Nine Hills, I said, “Oh crap, there goes my shot.” Who has heard of New York publishing two books on an obscure African country so quickly in succession?
     
Then again I wonder how Sarah feels. I know she cares about her book as much as I do mine. I hope we don’t get stuck on panel after panel together in coming years like some endless waltz on an interminable blind date. I hope Sarah will give me a chance after she reads or hears about this. Her book came out at a time when I was really struggling to come to terms with the war and my own seemingly lost career as a writer.

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