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Living on the Edge: Fiction by Peace Corps Writersby Mark Brazaitis
Synopses & Reviews
The preface from Living on the Edge: Fiction by Peace Corps Writers
Writers from the Peace Corps by John Coyne
For nearly four decades, Peace Corps writers have been going back, at least on paper, to the countries of their volunteer assignments. In novels, short stories, poetry and essays, Volunteers have written about their expatriate experiences in the developing countries of the world. Their Peace Corps experience has been a source of material, a creative impulse. For many it has become their literary territory.
Bob Shacochis, who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the eastern Caribbean islands where his award winning collection of stories, Easy in the Islands, is set, makes the point that Peace Corps writers, "are descendants of Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain, George Orwell, Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway, and scores of other men and women, expatriates and travel writers and wanderers, who have enriched our domestic literature with the spices of Cathay, who have tried to communicate the 'exotic'as a relative, rather than an absolute quality of humanity."
Shacochis is not alone in this view. Short story writer Eileen Drew, winner of the 1989 Milkweed Prize and a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa, adds "I think we belong to a large bunch of authors writing across cultures, who grow out of a real tradition of expatriate or colonial writing that includes Conrad, E.M. Forster, as well as Paul Bowles and V.S. Naipaul, and the voices of minority backgrounds from Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, to newer writers like Gish Jen, Amy Tan, Faye Ng, Susan Straight."
Drew goes on to make the point that writers with a Peace Corps experience "bring the outsider's perspective, which we've learned overseas, to bear on the U.S. We are not the only writers to have done this, but because of the nature of our material, it's something we can't not do."
Since 1961, over 150,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps Volunteers. Unlike those who choose the expatriate life, Volunteers don't go to the ends of the earth to escape American civilization or, for that matter, to make money from the labor of others. They go to jobs that take them away from embassies, first-class hote
Living on the Edge contains seventeen remarkable stories by writers who served in the Peace Corps, including well-known authors such as John Coyne, John Givens, Norman Rush and Paul Theroux, as well as work by exciting emerging authors like Mark Jacobs and Marnie Mueller. All these stories reflect the impact the Peace Corps experience had on former volunteers who write across cultures in the literary tradition of Joseph Conrad, E.M. Forster, and Paul Bowles. Each author has included a commentary on how he or she came to write the anthologized story.
About the Author
John Coyne was with the first group of Volunteers to Ethiopia and taught English in Addis Ababa. Later he was an Associate Peace Corps Director in Ethiopia and the Regional Manager of the New York Peace Corps Office. He has published eight novels and edited, among other books, Going Up Country: Travel Essays by Peace Corps Writers. In 1989 he founded RPCV Writers & Readers, a newsletter for and about Peace Corps volunteers.
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