Paul Cowan Papers, 1965-1971


Free-lance writer Paul Cowan was raised in a liberal Jewish intellectual milieu that stressed social concerns. After graduating from the Choate School in 1958 he enrolled at Harvard where he wrote for the Crimson and was a member of TOCSIN. In 1961 he left school, traveled to Great Britain, where he briefly studied at the London School of Economics, and to Israel, where he worked in a kibbutz. Cowan returned to the United States early in 1963. Before returning to finish his senior year at Harvard he spent the summer working as a tutor with black youth in Chestertown, Maryland. The following year he studied at the University of Chicago's Committee on Social Thought and then went south to work with COFO's Mississippi Freedom Summer project in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Cowan married in June 1965 and moved to New York City where he had a position on the Village Voice and his wife Rachel was a community organizer at the Hudson Guild Settlement. In 1966 the couple joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Ecuador. The two-year experience gradually undermined Cowan's conventional liberalism and led him to write The Making of an Un-American: A Dialogue with Experience (1970), an indictment of the Peace Corps. Since his return Cowan has been active in the Committee of Returned Volunteers and has continued his career as a free-lance writer, frequently contributing to the Voice, Ramparts, and Commentary. In 1979 a collection of these short stories appeared under the title The Tribes of America. He has also co-authored State Secrets: Police Surveillance in America (1974) with Nat Hentoff and Nick Egleson.