July 30, 2014
Ben East '96 M.S.
WEST HAVEN, CONN. --- Look up Ben East on Amazon and adventure books pop out at you. But it’s not THAT Ben East – an American outdoorsman and writer throughout much of the last century – that we are talking about.
We’re talking about Ben East, who earned a master’s degree at the University of New Haven in 1995, has worked as a Foreign Service Officer posted to U.S. Embassies around the world, and is one of 10 unpublished authors shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize, the richest in the UK for an unpublished novel. An excerpt from his book and that of the nine other authors on the shortlist is on Amazon, too. It is free and available here.
The Dundee prize, a project of One City, Many Discoveries and the University of Dundee, is 14 years old and awards the winner £10,000 (nearly $17,000) and a publishing contract with Cargo, an innovative company that believes in new writers and voices. Three finalists for the prize will be announced in the coming weeks, and the ultimate winner will be named in October.“Being shortlisted for this prize is the first real recognition I’ve gotten,” says East. “It’s a terrific honor.”
East has published in online magazines and the Foreign Service Journal. He thinks his book, “Sea Never Dry,” will have to go through another round of editing before it is published whether it wins the prize or not, he says.
The book tells the story of a murder, corruption, and the drug trade in West Africa. Set in Ghana, where East lived for more than three years until 2011, it boils down regional political and cultural dynamics rather than describing the current political situation of any one country.
The region has become a place where computers from all over the world are melted down without any concern for the environment or the toxins absorbed by the workers and where drugs pass through on their journey to Europe and points east.
“The book is not necessarily about Ghana, and does not really reflect what is happening in that country,” says East, who now lives in Virginia with his wife and two children. “But it does build on what I learned when I was there.”
East, who also spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi, and completed teaching and diplomatic assignments in Latin America and the Middle East, says his work is not autobiographical, but rather pure fiction.
His love of travel (he grew up in Ellington, Conn.) has fueled not only his career with the Department of State, but his writing. He attended UNH to pursue a degree in education and started out as a teaching intern at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Conn. and later as a middle school teacher in Brooklyn, N.Y.
He began his book while stationed in Mexico, writing after his two children, now ages four and six, went to bed. “Sometimes I would work on it at lunch or early in the morning. Most of all, I would just edit, going over it again and again.”
And writing is something he does all the time – recording his thoughts in Moleskin notebooks he carries with him.
Interesting enough, his book began with a short story called “One Dead Cop,” which was published two years ago by Umbrella Factory Magazine. The story became the first chapter of the book, but later was gutted and diminished and now sits in the middle of it.
“My fiction, so far, is satirical and action-oriented. Always on the surface,” he said. “Now I’d like to try capturing emotion – I’d like to write something more immersive and emotionally charged.”
But whether or not he keeps the satire, East is sure of two things: he will continue to travel and he will never stop writing. He compiles his fiction and book reviews at http://benonbooks.wordpress.com/
The University of New Haven is a private, top-tier comprehensive institution recognized as a national leader in experiential education. The university has 80 degree programs at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels. Founded in 1920, the university enrolls approximately 1,800 graduate students and more than 4,600 undergraduates.