J. Grigsby Crawford, a 2008 GW graduate who minored in English, has published a book titled The Gringo: A Memoir, which chronicles his two-year experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Amazon. And it is far from your typical story of travel or life abroad.
The Gringo—filled with a wide range of bizarre adventures—is arguably the book that the Peace Corps doesn’t want you to read.
Shortly after arriving in Ecuador, Crawford narrowly escaped an abduction attempt orchestrated by the people he was sent there to help. As the book continues, things only get stranger. Crawford’s journey is one part literary tale (of a young man coming to grips with loneliness, isolation, and bizarre illness), and one part coming-of-age. There is even an eye-popping, chapter-long description of a bad experience with a psychedelic drug.
The story takes on a gonzo-journalism appeal as it describes a government agency floundering after a half-century of existence; one reviewer has said the book is, “What I imagine Hunter S. Thompson would have written, had he lived a life of service.” Crawford himself says, “There is no they’re-poor-but-they’re-happy moralizing found in my story. I set out to write something that was entertaining and gritty—but, above all, honest.”
The Gringo, which is Crawford’s first book, has already earned accolades from a broad spectrum of entertainers and literati. Comedian Chevy Chase calls it a “must read.” And Josh Swiller, the best-selling author of his own stranger-in-a-strange-land tome The Unheard, raves, “In appealing, clear-eyed prose, [Crawford] recounts a series of adventures stretching from life threatening to slapstick, and a cast of characters too strange and flawed and hopeful to be anything but human. Often sardonic, occasionally romantic, and always vivid, The Gringo is a sobering record of this world's complexity—and, in its honesty, a heartening one too.”
Crawford’s writing has been published in numerous newspapers magazines, covering everything from politics to sports. Having graduated with a major in political science and a minor in English, he credits his GW creative writing classes with expanding his interest in pursuing the narrative nonfiction genre.