The Ugly American

In light of the Peace Corps’ (very quiet) decision to terminate its China program, here’s a New York Times piece I wrote a few years ago recalling the 1958 novel The Ugly American, and how John F. Kennedy sent copies of the book to all of his Senate colleagues. As president, Kennedy proposed the Peace Corps, based largely on the authors’ recommendation. The China program cost $4.1 million in 2019, a little over 1 percent of Peace Corps’ total budget. The United States spends $300 million annually on its military bands.

MacDowell Colony

Elated to be here, finishing Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet. What a country! In China, this is called divorcing yourself from the masses . . .

Lowell Thomas Award

The Road to Sleeping Dragon won a silver medal for Best Travel Book in the 2017-18 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award competition. This is my third Lowell Thomas, awarded by the Society of American Travel Writers, judged by faculty of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, and handed out at a ceremony in Barbados. (I did not go to Barbados.) “Sent to a tiny village in China by the Peace Corps in the 1990s,” the judges said, “the writer learns much more than the language. He learns, and we learn, that humanity crosses all borders. The final book in a trilogy, The Road to Sleeping Dragon,  contains more observation and reflection as he considers the mantra offered him while living in China: Go slowly, eat slowly, look slowly.”

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My Paris Review Interview with Georges Borchardt

There’s a good chance Georges Borchardt was responsible for shepherding at least one of your favorite writers to publication. After immigrating to New York from war-torn France at age nineteen in 1947, Borchardt found work as an assistant at a literary agency. One of the first sales he completed on his own was a play by an Irishman titled Waiting for Godot.

Over the next seven decades, Borchardt introduced American readers to works by Jean-Paul Sartre, Marguerite Duras, Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, and Eugene Ionesco, and found a home for Elie Wiesel’s oft-rejected Night. He has represented John Gardner, Mavis Gallant, Stanley Elkin, and John Ashbery. Today his clients include Ian McEwan, T. C. Boyle, and Susan Minot as well as the nonfiction writers Tracy Kidder, Anne Applebaum, Adam Hochschild, and—somehow—me. Here’s my Interview with this fascinating man.