Son of a book publisher, I was born in Boston with New England roots from both parents. After attending Noble & Greenough School and graduating from Amherst College, I earned a doctorate in Education from the University of Massachusetts. As a teenager, I took an avid interest in “things foreign.” My first experiences abroad were as exchange student in Germany with the American Field Service, earning a Middlebury College Master's degree in French at the Sorbonne in Paris, and teaching as Peace Corps Volunteer in Ivory Coast, West Africa. I returned to Paris as an intern at UNESCO.
Familiarity and comfort living in the developing world, enjoyment in learning languages, and interest in foreign cultures and peoples led me to seek a job with the U.S. Agency for International Development. When a neighbor told me of a USAID opening in the field of education, I applied. Soon I was sworn in as a Foreign Service officer. Long-term assignments included Ivory Coast and Guinea, Egypt, Indonesia, and El Salvador.
Perhaps as a midlife crisis, when I turned 40, I took up collecting old picture postcards as a serious hobby. Either you are a collector or you are not. My father and I had delighted in stamp collecting together until all our stamps and albums were stolen one night. Had I felt an emptiness for two decades since that time? And what would I do with the cards?
My objective became to produce books on old picture postcards of the countries where I lived during USAID postings. This became a parallel activity to my educational responsibilities in the developing world, but one which had clear ties with my vocation. Sharing my growing collection of old postcards led to meeting new people, improving my language skills, and facing the challenge to identify financial support and publish a book “in-country” before I had to move on. Three times it worked, in three different continents.
Images de Guinée (Guinean Images) was the first book produced by the private sector in the former French Guinea. Its publication coincided with the centennial of French official presence in the West African territory. The German Embassy financed its production, and two Frenchmen and one Guinean friend collaborated. This is the only book I did which has gone into a second printing. Pope John-Paul II brought back to the Vatican Library a copy of the book after his visit.
In the former Dutch East Indies, my book benefited from a special donor pledging campaign to help celebrate fifty years of Indonesian independence. A cultural and literary foundation supported the costs. In El Salvador, a cultural and musical foundation provided initial support, and then together we obtained major patronage from a private bank. They were thrilled to back a cultural project which would result in a handsome “coffee-table” book they could present to stockholders and visiting bankers.
I stopped producing postcard books when my foreign postings ceased. Assigned to Washington for Foreign Service duty, I headed up a team backstopping USAID programs in fourteen countries in West Africa, and chiefly Senegal. A chance purchase on eBay of an envelope sent from Boston to the American consul on the island of Gorée in Senegal in 1889 led to my first Biography. The “excerpt” link on the website for the Peter Strickland book gives the details.
Africa holds a special place in my heart. I lived on the continent 20 years; my wife and I raised our children in Ivory Coast for over a dozen years. The African leader I admired above all others was Léopold Sédar Senghor, the poet-president of Senegal. Unlike almost every other African head of state, he stepped down voluntarily, after having groomed his successor and prepared a peaceful succession. Before entering politics he had been a professor and a writer. After being the first president of independent Senegal for 20 years, he returned to writing, and he traveled widely, visiting cultural institutions. I met him three times and published an article on him in Africa Report .
In 2006, the Library of Congress contacted me to ask if I would be willing to assemble an exhibition devoted to Senghor on the centennial of his birth.
Click here to view the exhibit.
Poet/President Leopold Senghor Featured in Library of Congress Exhibit
Tour of Leopold Sedar Senghor Exhibit, Nov. 7, 2006 (9 min.)