Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Q&A with Evelyn Kohl LaTorre

Evelyn Kohl LaTorre is the author of the new memoir Between Inca Walls, which recounts her experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Peru in the 1960s. She spent 32 years working in the field of education, and she lives in Fremont, California.

Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir about your experiences in Peru in the 1960s?

A: I have imagined and written stories ever since I learned how to read and write as a 6-year-old in Ismay, Montana, where I grew up. We had no TV until I was 13, so I read voraciously and enjoyed writing stories and poetry.

I kept a diary in high school and wrote daily in my journals when I volunteered in the Peace Corps in Peru from 1964 to 1966 at age 21. That helped me recall details for my book, Between Inca Walls: A Peace Corps Memoir.

 During my 32 years working in education, I wrote mostly psychological reports and published academic papers and a doctoral dissertation.

When I retired in 2002, I joined the National Association of Memoir Writers and later helped start a local chapter of the California Writers Club. The monthly speakers and workshops of both organizations helped me transition from academic to narrative writing.

Rereading my Peace Corps journals tweaked my memory enough to write a memoir about that influential time in my life. Wherever I travel (to nearly 100 countries now) or live abroad, I keep a journal so I can recall my adventures.

Q: What impact did it have on you to revisit this period in your life?

A: The Peace Corps significantly changed the trajectory of my life and wanted to explore my coming-of-age and who I was then.

Reliving those two years helped me appreciate the qualities of those I loved in Peru as well as how adventurous and determined I was. I also came to realize how naïve, idealistic, and impulsive I was. I hadn’t remembered the trauma I felt when I became pregnant and wasn’t married.

Writing about that time in my life erased the shame I’d been taught to feel about that circumstance. It was especially heartening from the vantage point of a successful 54-year-marriage.

Q: Do you think your Peace Corps experiences are similar to those of volunteers in more recent times?

A: Yes and no. To date, some 235,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in 141 countries. Since those early years, nationals in the countries where they serve, not in U.S. universities, have trained volunteers. Emphasis is now more on sending volunteers of all ages who have skills that countries request, not in generalists fresh out of college.

There appears to be more coordination with NGOs, USAID, and in-country agencies. Training still emphasizes language proficiency but not physical stamina, which was the case with my outward-bound type training in Puerto Rico.

Living for two years the way the natives in less industrialized countries do has a marked impact on volunteers. Often, we live in impoverished circumstances with no modern conveniences. It changes the way we see our own country, the world, and ourselves. We bring that knowledge back to our communities.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from your book?

A: It’s a relief to reveal one’s deep dark secrets. Reliving the trauma and retelling the details, releases the energy those memories hold.

Sometimes life doesn’t deliver what you think you want but gives you what you need.

It pays to take risks (especially early in life). You gain confidence and can bounce back from mistakes.

Wealth and poverty, blessings and hardship, don’t have clear lines.

Knowing about the lived experience of other people helps understand instead of judge.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: A sequel to Between Inca Walls that looks at what happened after my husband and I leave Peru to make our lives in the U.S. with no money, limited employment skills, and a newborn. My husband had to learn a new language and acquire a marketable skill. Tentatively titled Starting From Scratch: My Bicultural Marriage, it will be released in August 2021.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: You can read about some of my world travels and the death of my cousin on the Costa Concordia cruise ship on my website, www.evelynlatorre.com.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Evelyn. I am looking forward to your second book. The title has a lot of appeal and creates more curiosity as you will likely bravely share your journey through life - written with the same honesty as your first book.