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A Writing Apprenticeship

I first went to Peru to gain experience so that I could write about life. I needed subject matter to write about. Otherwise, how could I expect to write a book unless I had put myself through new experiences and had exotic stories to tell.

Twenty-five years later, the original fuzzy idea of a book never got past scratch paper, but other writing has taken place, including a couple of books. With regards to Peru, there is always something to write about.

Essays: Peru as the Supreme Mental Teaser

From 1987 to 1990, I did research on the guerrilla war that was raging in Peru. The Shining Path guerrillas (Sendero Luminoso in Spanish) had crossed up most quick reads as to their nature. I tried to provide a different view of the guerrillas and the context by gaining access to grassroots organizations that Shining Path harassed and bullied. I wanted to see what kind of ocean that Mao's Peruvian fish were swimming in.

The exercise allowed me to add my grain of sand to understanding the complexity of Peru. It was also an opportunity to write in a more extended format than newspapers or newsmagazines provided that rarely went longer than a thousand words and focused on the immediate.

Another sample of this work is The Sendero File, a publication that focused on the guerrilla organization just before and after the capture of Abimael Guzmán. It was carried out under the auspices of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). There were five issues: Issue 1 | Issue 2 | Issue 3 | Issue 4 | Issue 5

Crisis: What's a nice, little country like Peru doing in a situation like this? After spending 10 years in Peru and practicing journalism for six years, I sat down and tried to fit together a lot of pieces that had never fit in a news story. It was the start of a more ambitious direction in my writing. I took a step back and looked at my field notes and interviews and tried to get a new perspective on events and trends. My strong suit is not snap judgments, but digging deeper.

The War of the Fourth Sword is a book that I began to write about political violence in Peru. I am providing here selected chapters that were the closest to completion.

Newspapers and Magazines

I first got a chance at writing for newspapers and magazines while I was an understudy at Lima Times/Andean Report whose staff served most major media from Lima. I just had to wait for a major news medium to call up asking for help filling a news hole, and I landed a job. The first one was with The Times of London. I also wrote for the Washington Post, Newsweeek, the Miami Herald, and others. I also wrote for Peruvian publications like La Republica, El Observador, La Prensa and Caretas.

The Hoosier Poems

I first came to writing through poetry. I cut my teeth on poetry, actually haiku and Dylan Thomas, when I was a teenager. I matured with e.e. cummings and william carlos williams — notice the preference for poets with unorthodox spelling, punctuation and capitalization. My freshman year at Anderson College, I won the annual poetry contest. The kiss of death — I defined myself as a poet, which did not help with earning a living by writing. The poems here are unpublished if you don't count the small lit mag put out by Anderson College. I continued writing poetry until journalism came to divert my energies. The poems are listed in chronological order.

Translations

When I first arrived in Peru, I approached several Peruvian poets with the idea of translating some of their work with their collaboration, kind of a joint authorship. If it was hard to write on my own, I could at least learn the craft by impersonating others. I worked directly with a generation of young poets -- Antonio Cisneros, Marcos Martos, Mirko Lauer, Julio Ortega and others -- to try to capture the right tone and hue of the words. The time spent with these poets was just as enjoyable as the poetry.

This generation was the first to open itself up to U.S. influences in literature and culture. For instance, they caught on to T.S. Elliot, Ezra Pound and especially a confessional poet like Robert Lowell. But the movies and pop culture were also influences.

Peruvian poets provide a different take on the country.