Writing Peace Corps (3) Service through Story

SATURDAY, MARCH 26, 1:00pm-2:15pm (75 minutes)
Memorial Union, Play Circle Room, 2nd Floor

Camping: Hope without Home
Bird Cupps
RPCV Kenya (1987-1989)

I served in Kenya over twenty years ago, and since that time, I have kept strong ties to the country. My most recent project in Kenya involved teaching writing and journalism to refugees at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwestern Kenya. Over 80,000 refugees from 14 different African countries live at Kakuma. As they attempt to exercise free speech, the refugee journalists in the camp have faced resistance from UNHCR, several NGOs, and fellow refugees. My presentation/performance will integrate photos with the reading of a creative essay on their stories and the refugee camp at large. I'll include information about how my PCV experience has shaped my approach to working with these journalists.

Bird Cupps lives in southwestern Wisconsin on a 250-acre farm where she raises sheep and chickens and runs a large prairie restoration. Her rural background gave her a lot of credibility in Africa where her Peace Corps community enjoyed seeing pictures of her livestock.  Ms. Cupps is a nonfiction writer with an MFA from Penn State, who currently teaches at Madison Area Technical College.  Her course in research skills requires students to learn about Kenya from Kenyans. Ms. Cupps returns to Kenya often where she maintains close ties to friends she met as a volunteer. They call each other sister and brother, redefining the extended family .


Looking for Orion
Kara Garbe Balcerzak                         
Minnesota State University – Mankato           
RPCV Burkina Faso, 2001-2004

Life in Africa is often portrayed according to one of two extremes: it is either a place of immense suffering and danger, or one of idealized community values. Neither of these perspectives does it justice, which is one reason why I’m writing about my own experiences as a PCV in Burkina Faso. I will read for 10-12 minutes from my memoir-in-progress and talk about how the writing of my memoir has compelled me to reach new conclusions about the complex role of westerners in Africa. I will also share some tips about writing RPCV memoirs.

Kara Garbe is a writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies A Life Inspired: Tales of Peace Corps Service and Peace Corps at 50, as well as Abroad View Magazine and The Tusculum Review. She is currently at work on a memoir about her Peace Corps service (Burkina Faso 2001-2004), for which she has received support from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Blacklock Nature Sanctuary, and the Loft Literary Center. She is a graduate student in the MFA program in creative writing at Minnesota State University - Mankato.


Between Epiphanies: A Sufi Adventure in Senegal
Ephrat Livni          
Zohar Guerilla Publishing                  
RPCV Senegal, 2001-2002

The novella Between Epiphanies, is a product of my Peace Corps Senegal service and a subsequent MA in Islamic Studies from Columbia University. It explores the history of Sufism in Senegal, framing the Peace Corps experience in the context of classic Sufi adventure stories. Notably, the book does not romanticize village life and attempts to truly convey the different stages of an American's relationship to the difficult conditions of life in rural West Africa.   
I will also briefly discuss the Zohar Guerilla Publishing project, which I started with another returned Senegal volunteer after Peace Corps. Initially, we published Between Epiphanies as a serialized novel and distributed 10,000 chapters for free throughout New York City. With only a stapler, printer and paper (and some Metro Cards) we were able to reach many people on a topic that has no popular interest. Now that we are attorneys and can afford to put out a more elegant version of the book, we are continuing the project on a grander scale. Our ability to work with whatever we have is a skill honed in village.

Ephrat Livni wrote articles for The Jerusalem Report in Israel and features for ABC News in New York before serving as an agriculture volunteer in the Peace Corps in Senegal. Upon her return to New York, she studied Islam at Columbia University; having spent time living in an extremely peaceful Muslim country was particularly poignant for an Israeli. Her interests have always been more literary than political, however, and she was soon drawn to the classic Sufi travel stories. Her MA thesis was the novel Between Epiphanies, which was then distributed throughout NYC. Livni went on to study public interest law at CUNY and to serve as a public defender in Palm Beach County for three years. She now runs a small law firm in West Palm Beach with her RPCV husband; he practices immigration law and I practice criminal defense. Together they continue to work on the Zohar Guerilla Publishing project and have three similar publications slated for 2011.