Cuenca expat writer wins international book award

Jul 1, 2024 | 0 comments

By Jeremiah Reardon

Carol E. Leutner’s new book Race Consciousness, A Personal and Political Journey has won the prestigious 2024 New Generation Indie Book Award in the History and Legacy Memoir category. The prize is given annually by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group, Inc., which is the largest international awards program for independent authors and publishers.

Carol Leutner reads from her book Race Consciousness at Abraham Lincoln Center in October 2023

A resident of Cuenca for almost ten years, Carol has always been fashion conscious. “My clothes told the world who I was and affirmed my self-worth,” Carol writes in her book. Living in Washington, D.C., in 1993, she mentioned to a friend that she still had the pink silk organza dress she wore to her high school prom in Baltimore, Maryland. Following up on her friend’s suggestion, Carol donated it to the National Museum of American History.

Along with her dress, Carol provided the museum with photos, her yearbook, invitations, a school newspaper, her tennis letter and a one-page statement. Justifying to her mother before the prom how she had to have the dress, Carol stated, “My senior year has been the best year of my life and the event is the crowning jewel.”

Carol lived in Baltimore in 1967 with her first husband, Jim, an Episcopalian priest. While Jim worked at a suburban church, Carol taught Black children at the inner-city Lombard School where she learned about the effects of poverty firsthand.

When her contract ended, Carol and Jim toured Europe and Russia in a Volkswagen car. On August 21, 1968, they had just arrived in Prague, Czechoslovakia. At 4 a.m. that morning they were awakened by the Soviet Invasion of Prague, a real-world political education.

Attendees of the book reading greet friends afterward.

Seeking help at the U. S. Embassy, they joined the exodus the next day to Germany. Shirley Black, aka Shirley Temple, on a business visit to Prague, led a thirty-car convoy with Carol and Jim, out of Czechoslovakia.

Returning to the States the summer of 1968, Jim was assigned to the Episcopal Church’s Good Shepherd Mission, established at the end of the Indian Wars in Fort Defiance, Arizona. Living near the tribal headquarters of the Navajo Nation, Carol found work as manager of its Office of Navajo Economic Opportunity, directed by Peter MacDonald, who soon became tribal chairman. The Office of Economic Opportunity was President Lyndon Johnson’s signature vehicle for implementing his War on Poverty.

Carol made this observation after her first days on the job, “I was invited into their world of work and, then for just a flicker, into their personal world. I wanted to know more about Navajo culture-a journey that would transform my view of politics and religion.”

With the end of her marriage to Jim, Carol left ONEO to move to Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her second husband, George, an African American. They raised two daughters, Hilary and Caroline, and worked on state political campaigns. While attending law school at the University of New Mexico in 1984, Carol worked on the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson. George served as New Mexico’s campaign manager for the Chicago politician.

After her divorce from George, Carol lived in Washington, D.C., with her daughters. Working at their neighborhood church, she took classes at Georgetown University Law Center and earned her Master of International Law. Weeks after making her prom dress donation, and with the girls remaining with their father and his family in D.C., Carol flew to Italy. There she was hired in Rome as a contract manager for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Administration. Her job involved travel to the agency’s South African office. Upon her retirement, Carol found her way to Cuenca in 2015.

Someone used to writing about government institutions, political analysis and now, telling her life story, required a different writer’s skillset, Carol soon learned after joining Cuenca Writers Collective (CWC) in 2017. At that time, the Cuenca expat writer’s group met Wednesdays for lunch at Sunrise Cafe in El Centro. Among her adventures and insights on race relations, Carol sprinkled her interest in fashion and art.

While preparing Writers Unite!, a CuencaHighLife article marking the fifth anniversary in 2020 of our writers’ group, I added members’ comments on their experiences with the group to the article’s conclusion.

Carol wrote, “Without these critiques I would not be on the second draft of Chapter 33! We are peers and we have the same goal, yet we are so diverse: editors, poets, lawyers, artists, teachers and WRITERS. Plus, meeting every week pushes you to write, because you want to be ready with something. Now, instead of fretting about what I write, I just go for it, knowing the group will catch missing pieces. Thanks for Franny (moderator and co-founder Frances Hogg), members Kathy McCullough, Jean McCord and all who have kept this great resource alive.”

We members of CWC, past and present, are thrilled at Carol’s success. Her Indie Book Award comes after years of dedicated effort, starting the memoir on her own in 2008 and achieving her goal while working on chapters and rewrites in the group.

Available on Amazon.com as both a Kindle Edition and a paperback, a few of our writer group members have contributed reviews. Although her book has many positive reviews on both Amazon and at her website, https://carolleutner.com, Carol says that she needs more to drive traffic to its Amazon sale’s page.

“No name needs to be given and they can be two or three sentences long,” she told me. Whether you’re a reader of memoirs or a student of racial issues, you’ll appreciate how Carol’s book delineates these themes in a compelling narrative born of experience and personal insight.

Also see, An Afro-Ecuadorian gift: How a valuable Ecuadorian artifact ended up in a Washington, D.C. museum.

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