Jerry Eckert’s “Mahlapane’s Story” (Issue 5) is available in the Northern Colorado Writers’ anthology, Pooled Ink. Pooled Ink publishes and celebrates the winners of the Northern Colorado’s Writers 2011 Contests and includes works of esteemed fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and cover design work. Eckert’s “Mahlapane’s Story” originally appeared in Issue 5 of Superstition Review and you can read a full version of the story in our archives.
Jerry Eckert is a former professor who has returned to his love of writing nonfiction after years of work in his academic field. He has published nearly 200 papers, some of which were award winning. His research and policy analyses for the Office of the South African Prime Minister helped speed the downfall of the apartheid, his monograph restructured Lesotho’s agriculture, he wrote the first economic policy package for the incoming Mandela government, and his op-eds in the Christian Science Monitor influenced American’s South Africa policies. “My career was in agricultural development and policy advising overseas. I lived these events,” Jerry notes, “I was able to earn the trust of my host nations and their governments and they sucked me in very close to the center of the action. Every country I ever lived in long-term, I entered as a technocrat and ended up working for the President or Prime Minister directly, at their request.”
In our interview, Eckert mentions that his work and his love for literary nonfiction seem to come from two different cultures: “As an academic, I wrote a lot in ‘Academic Speak’ which is not a very creative (nor easily readable) medium. I [won] a couple of ‘Best Published Article’ awards from my professional association, and those were two papers I chose to write in the language of the average person rather than for the academic with his/her Ph.D.”
Jerry started writing when his studies took him beyond Arizona borders, and he felt the loss of leaving the desert that he loved: “I wrote for Arizona outdoor magazines as a way to re-live the Arizona desert and our sky islands vicariously. I could get back home in my mind every now and then. I wrote of my favorite mountains, the Santa Ritas, I wrote of my favorite species, the Coues deer (Sonoran whitetail). I think I got hooked when I discovered that I could get paid for what were essentially my love letters to an ecosystem. I fell in love with literary nonfiction when I discovered the richness of the feelings when writing memoir, recapturing my life’s high points, and finding that readers loved the stories.”
Eckert’s nonfiction pieces have previously appeared in Matter, Pilgrimage, Memoir (and), Weber – The Contemporary, in addition to Superstition Review. His piece “The Dustbin Telegraph” will be featured in our upcoming Issue 9 of Superstition Review, which will go live April 1st. “Requiem for the Night Sky,” a lament of losing the stars and the skies to pollution, will appear in the upcoming issue of Weber – The Contemporary West. Eckert’s “Ismail,” a nonfiction piece that examines life lessons learned from following the poorest people in Pakistan, is scheduled to appear in Memoir (and). Jerry Eckert is in the final stages of finishing his memoir, Weeping Kings and Wild Boars: Adventures of a Neocolonialist.
For those seeking to enter the literary nonfiction field, Jerry advises that budding writers “keep a journal, religiously. I didn’t and now decades later it is really hard to pull up exact sequences of who said what to whom.” Jerry also encourages young writers to “Go through life with your eyes wide open. Like a photographer goes through life always seeing light more intensely than the rest of us, the writer needs to see life more intensely that most. Jump into the thick of things and, even if being swept along by the thrill of it all, remember to watch with what I call the Writer’s Eye, knowing that you are at the same time taking field notes for an essay some day.”
Northern Colorado Writers is currently hosting their Short Fiction 2012 contest, which is open until March 15th, 2012. You can find more information and guidelines for the contest at the NCW website.
Congratulations Jerry Eckert. We’re proud of all that you have accomplished and look forward to your new work.
His essay, “Mahlapane’s Story,” in which a teenage village girl in Africa explains the real meaning of poverty and human worth to a foreign expert, won the NCW 2011 nonfiction contest. It appeared first in The Superstition Review (Spring 2010).
“Requiem for the Night Sky,” which won the 2012 O. Marvin Lewis Essay Award, appeared in Weber – The Contemporary West, (Fall 2012) –.lamenting what our culture loses as light pollution blots out the stars.
You can keep up with Jerry every other Wednesday at The Writing Bug.