Perdita Huston: Global Passion, Local Action

December 17th, 2010 by Catherine Fisher

Hooray! Our new online exhibit, Perdita Huston: Global Passion, Local Action, is now up and running!  As an expanded version of Huston’s featured writers page, the site is rich with images, text, documents and excerpts to illustrate her remarkable global career as a journalist, activist and author; and her life as a mother and inspiring mentor to many. Take a trip around the world, and through time, with this extraordinary woman to learn about her passionate devotion to improving the plight of third world women and the planet as a whole.

Expanding, exploring: New online exhibits for featured writers

November 4th, 2010 by Catherine Fisher

As assistant at the Maine Women Writers Collection, my job is a rich mix of activities! Processing intriguing collections, helping out with cool events and programs, interacting with students and researchers and keeping on top of administrative tasks, all in a beautiful, inspiring atmosphere, makes my time here very fulfilling.

Over the past few months I’ve been completely absorbed by the fun, creative challenge of developing a model for expanded web pages for some of our featured writers. By delving more deeply into a particular collection, creating a more intimate, detailed portrait of the writer and her work, and showcasing specific documents, photos and other treasures contained in her archive, these pages will hopefully serve as both exhibit and invitation. Researchers, students and interested others can explore the author and her collection online, and perhaps will be inspired to come experience the wealth of materials firsthand at the MWWC.

Our first collection to be exhibited in this way is that of Perdita Huston (1932-2001). A Portland, Maine, native, her career as a journalist, activist and author was both global and local in its focus on human rights, particularly the plight of third world women. She lived and worked in many European and African countries as well as in Washington, DC and other US cities. Huston’s global experience inspired the website’s design of an interactive map and timeline to trace her movements and work with organizations around the world. Photos, letters, documents and excerpts from her writing illustrate each chapter of her life for the user.

Two stops along this timeline are Huston’s tenures with the Peace Corps. From 1978-1981 she served as the first woman Regional Director responsible for the administration and management of Peace Corps programs in North Africa, Near East, Asia, Pacific (NANEAP). Based in Washington, DC, she supervised an overseas staff of 225 in 18 countries, 2,000 volunteers and a headquarters regional staff of 26.

In 1981, she became Associate Director for Development Education. As senior confidential advisor to the Director of the Peace Corps, she planned and implemented the agency’s nationwide development education programs. To mark the 20th anniversary of the Peace Corps, Huston spearheaded a global study of how the agency was perceived around the world, traveling to personally interview approximately 20 international leaders for her report.

After leaving the Peace Corps to work for the World Conservation Union, International Planned Parenthood Federation and The Global Family Project, Huston returned to Peace Corps as Country Director for Mali from 1997 to 1999 and for Bulgaria from 1999 to 2000. In Mali, she was responsible for the management of the largest Peace Corps program in Africa. In both positions she trained and supervised hundreds of volunteers and host country staff and served as liaison with the Malian and Bulgarian governments as well as non-governmental organizations and the diplomatic communities.

While at the Peace Corps in August of 1979, she wrote a letter to her daughter Francoise, then age 21, and in her counseling words Huston reveals some of the deep convictions that informed her life and work, as well as her own path toward the self-confidence that enabled such a powerful, important career:

“Give of your feelings and of your intelligence and you will have given those around you the largest gift they will have received in years.” Doesn’t she put it well? This could be said of the courage of so many of the women writers in the Collection.

I’ll be posting an invitation and link to the Perdita Huston online exhibit once it “goes live” by the end of the year. We hope it will inspire and illuminate, only the first of many expanded pages to come.