Featured Writer of the Month

Phil Kurata

"Writing is like being in athletic training."

A poster on a school wall caught his attention. It displayed a picture of a Casbah, the traditional walled Arab city with narrow, winding cobblestone streets, mosque minarets, domes, arches, markets with spices, carpets and all manner of things exotic. It triggered the imagination of then-University of Kansas student, Phil Kurata, who studied the poster carefully, then followed up on its offer to spend a junior year abroad through the Experiment in International Living.

“That year was a very vibrant experience for me,” commented Kurata. After graduating from Kansas, he returned to Tunisia where he spent the next three and a half years working with the Peace Corps teaching English and later with Project HOPE, engaged in public health work. Since then, he has lived in Asia and Europe and now lives in Maryland. Those years in Tunisia during the late sixties and early seventies provided the raw material for his first novel.

The Reluctant Agent is the story of Habib, a frustrated Tunisian, caught up in the throes of turbulent political and social changes of his country, and the emotional turmoil of his personal relationships. The Reluctant Agent evolved slowly and steadily. Kurata started it during the 1970’s while living in Taiwan. He kept writing and re-writing it over the years. “I couldn’t sell it, but I felt I had a strong story,” he said. “I never lost my belief that I had a good story.”

Slow and steady continues to reflect the nature of his writing process. Kurata begins his writing regimen using an ink pen and a spiral notebook. “The real creative process is longhand,” he said. The physicality of his hand moving across the paper, his shoulder moving the hand, are integral parts of his writing process. “My whole body moves,” he said. “I feel it. Writing is like being in athletic training.” Kurata knows about athletic training.

He has run several marathons including doing the U.S. Marine Corps Marathon twice and has plans to run the Baltimore Marathon this year. “Fitness is important to my writing,” he explained.

His ability to hang in for the long haul paid off in the fall of 2000. He entered the Washington Writers Publishing House fiction contest and won. The prize included publication of The Reluctant Agent in 2001. “It’s a great sense of satisfaction,” Kurata said of his first book. “It’s a sense of fulfillment. If you have a vision, keep working. Never give up.” For more information about The Reluctant Agent or the Washington Writers Publishing House, click www.wwph.org.