The Million Mile Walker Dispatch, July 2023, Best Travel Book & Poverty by America

Dear Friends and Colleagues from Around the World,

I want to reflect on the meaning behind my latest book being named by the Peace Corps Writers Award as the Best Travel Book. Culture Watch will introduce a compelling book by Matthew Desmond and then explain why Phoenix feels like the “canary in the mine,” as triple-digit temperatures have been the norm for 26 days. I’ll share my column in the Arizona Authors Association newsletter in My Writing and Reviews. Voices in Action will include a provocative quote from author Matthew Desmond, and I’ll end with an updated Calendar.

 My Saddest Pleasure’s recognition as the 2023 recipient of the Peace Corps Writers Award for Best Travel Book is a special honor since there are approximately 1,500 Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) authors, and many have written travel or memoir books. All books in this year’s competition were published during the previous year and were selected for their excellence in travel writing.   The first award was presented in 200l to Jeffrey Tayler for Facing the Congo, a book I recently read, enjoyed, and reviewed.

Some of the better-known Returned Peace Corps Writers include Chris Matthews, the political commentator who served in the Peace Corps in Swaziland, Peter Hessler, who served in China and wrote River Town and Nancy Scheper-Hughes, an anthropologist who served in Brazil. Other recipients of Best Travel Book include Lawrence F. Lihosit, who helped me become a writer. His books are Years On And Other Travel Essays—and John Berman’s Crocodile Love, Travel Tales from an Extended Honeymoon.

The Godfather of Travel Writing, Paul Theroux, influenced the premise behind My Saddest Pleasures, and this passage from John Coyne’s Going Up Country in the words of Senator Harris Wofford says much about why Peace Corps Volunteers make good writers,

..My friend, the novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux, a volunteer in Malawi, joined the Peace Corps after reading Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. He put his finger on the title page and said, “When I join the Peace Corps, I shall go there.” Like many of those first volunteers to go overseas, Theroux was responding to a personal challenge to do something different with his life.

Culture Watch

 My interest in the impact of poverty was heightened when I joined the Peace Corps and began working in countries worldwide to alleviate suffering. And after thirty years, when I spent more time in the U.S., like the author, I was haunted by how the wealthiest nation in the world had so many people living in poverty. One in every nine people in America is officially poor, and one in eight children—why do we tolerate so much suffering amid so much wealth?

Like a Peace Corps volunteer, Desmond’s perspective was on seeing poverty up close and personal. His awareness of poverty started as a child in the Route 66 town of Winslow, Arizona.  His father was a pastor at the First Christian Church, and as a graduate school student at the University of Wisconsin, he focused on the housing crisis. He moved to Milwaukee, living in a mobile home and then a rooming house where he befriended families who had been evicted.

The following article from “Rolling Stone,” “We Can End Poverty Now, But Do We Want to?” reflects the controversial message and timeliness of this book,

America is an obscenely rich nation. We have supermarkets with 50 different brands of potato chips and mega-mansions sprouting like buffalo grass across the prairie and TVs the size of barns. With all this wealth, all this bounty, all this stuff — why is there so much hardship and suffering?  Roughly one in nine Americans live in poverty. If the American poor founded a country, that country would have a bigger population than Australia or Venezuela.

The most eye-opening takeaway from this book is that the most extensive welfare program in the country focuses on the wealthy and middle class in this country. Much of that goes to the well-off, like the home mortgage deduction, one of many tax breaks afforded to the wealthiest Americans – 1.8 trillion dollars.

And even when we spend $100 billion on pets in the U.S., government spending on public works is declining. And if you combine all the tax breaks we get with social insurance programs like food stamps, the top 20% of Americans get about $35,000 from the government, while the bottom 20% get about $25,000—a 40% difference. And even then, those eligible for assistance often can’t access it due to a lack of access or a massive bureaucracy.

An interview in the August issue of “Sojourners” made the author’s focus quite clear, “I want to end poverty. I don’t want to reduce it; I want to abolish it.”  And here’s how, “Those programs are things like empowering workers, raising the minimum wage—for God’s sake, it hasn’t been raised in over 13 years—expanding housing choices…and ending financial exploitation of the poor when it comes to accessing money and credit.

This is the kind of awareness we desperately need to start to change this broken, cruel system.”LitHub.

And here’s my review of this book,

Phoenix feels like the canary in the cave of dramatic climate change.

Yesterday’s temperature in Phoenix of 119 was a daily record (for four days so far). We also had the longest streak of 110+ temperatures (26 days). Water temperatures off parts of Florida hit 96 degrees, and heat waves grip three continents. This climate journalist concludes that “heat is the primary driver for this climate transformation.” Here’s a timely interview on Democracy Now with Rolling Stone author Jeff Goodell on “Life and Death on a Scorched Planet.”


My Writing, Interviews, and Reviews

 For two bonus book reviews of Puebloan Society of Chaco Canyon and How the Word Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery across America,  click twice on the Million Mile Walker Poster at the top for my column, and read more in the Arizona Authors Association newsletter, Authors Digest.

Voices in Action

Tens of millions of Americans do not end up poor by mistake in history or personal conduct. Poverty persists because some wish and will it to.  – Matthew Desmond, author of Poverty by America.

What Others Are Saying

On the Best Travel Book award:

I knew something was up when I received a message entitled “Your big win” from fellow writer Craig Storti:

Hi Mark!  Hearty congratulations on the award for Saddest. I hope it enhances your efforts with Moritz…” –Craig Storti, one of the most supportive Returned Peace Corps writers and also the recipient of the Best Travel Book.

Congrats on this award for your novella book. A good read! And greetings from Kathmandu. Best, – Mark W. Mark Wentling is a Fellow RPCV author, and recipient of this year’s Best Non-Fiction Book award, Kansas Kaleidoscope.

Mark, congratulations, you are on a well-deserved roll.Bill Miller, RPCV Dominican Republic and host of Global Connections TV. He interviewed me twice –  once about writing my latest book.

Congratulations Mark! You are an extraordinary person and writer! Warm regards, –Jodey Sharpe, a local writer of the Mystic Bay Series.

 Congratulations, Mark!  That is terrific. –Susan Pohlman, Local writer, editor, writing coach, and host of the Phoenix Writers Network.

And congratulations on your accomplishment! Warm regards from Florida!            –Jeremy Bassetti, author and podcast host of “Travel Writing World.”

High honor, Mark. You are exceeding all of our expectations. I thought it was a great read, now I have proof. Can’t wait for the next one! –Riley Scott, High School bud and avid reader.

Comments About the June Issue Of The Million Mile Walker Dispatch

Thanks, Mark – well done and informative.  I especially enjoy visiting your thoughts on issues of the day, which rage through our society and body politics. Your unabashed humanism is refreshing…Keep on truckin’.  –Earl Vincent de Berge is a local author and poet with a shared love for Guatemala. His new book is A Finger of Land on an Old Man’s Hand: Adventures in Mexico’s Baja Wilderness.


Thank you for your literary update, Mark. I love how involved you have always been in protecting human rights and sharing with your readers the richness of the encounters throughout your endeavors.  Helping your friend with his last book while Parkinson’s was ‘closing in’ was very kind. I like your terminology about that. Seeing my brilliant dad in his struggles with the disease and living in a care facility was eye opening. He described himself as a bird living in a gilded cage. (RIP Dad). -A fellow graduate of Evergreen High School in Colorado.


I am hunkering down in Scottsdale, Arizona, waiting for these “excessive heat” warnings to end. Revising my forthcoming book, The Guatemala Reader, What You Might Not Know and Why You Should Care. (Searching for a publisher and an editor).

 You can find my 80 book reviews and 28 articles, plus several videos, on my website, including a reduced price for my new book if you read it and pass it along to your local library “Follow” me on Twitter—at and Facebook, at for the latest international affairs and literature. And, as always, if you’ve read “Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond,” rate it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and GoodReads, or if you don’t have it, please consider purchasing it or, better still, purchase my latest book, My Saddest Pleasures: 50 Years on the Road


Mark D. Walker


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