Author Interview - Peter Clenott

 We have a great group of authors at Imajin Books, but sometimes it's hard to keep up with them all. Fortunately, I have blog and am not afraid to use it. Offer an interview as bait, and it's amazing the things you can learn.

A quick look at his bio reveals that Peter Clenott is well-traveled as well as well-read. He works in the housing field in Boston, advocating for public housing and helping the homeless. He wrote his first novel, The Third World, soon after college graduation. Devolution is his fifth novel.

Hi Peter. Let’s get the obvious questions out of the way first. Who are you and what made you write this book? 
I am a very curious man. The origins of this novel go back to the mid-1970s when I became fascinated by the work of anthropologists using sign language to see if chimpanzees had the ability to develop language skills. My thought was, what would happen if chimpanzees in the wild were taught human language. Would they ultimately abandon it? Or would they expand their new-found ability, pass it on from generation to generation. If the latter, what would be the impact on chimpanzee society?

It’s clear that you’re a man with a strong social conscience. How has that affected your novels and choice of themes?

Writers have to entertain in order to sell. But I feel the reader is cheated unless they get something else even if subtly. I try to put in my novels themes, in Devolution the theme is the threat to our environment of corporate waste and greed, that provoke debate and discussion. I want the reader to remember my book after they have put it on the shelf and gone on to their next read. Maybe Devolution will stir the reader enough to want to learn more about chimpanzees, the rainforest and the effects of environmental mismanagement.

Being a research junkie myself, I have to ask, how much research goes into your books?

For Devolution I needed to know as much as I could about chimpanzees and the work of anthropologists using sign language. I needed to know about the history of the Congo and the habitat in the Maiku National Park in the Congo.

What were some of your sources?

I talked to a bunch of chimpanzees. (just kidding). I used the library and took out a number of books on chimpanzee behavior and the teaching of chimpanzees sign language. I can’t remember specifically which books. Jane Goodall would have been one. I think another dealt with a chimpanzee named Washoe. I wrote a novel about the rise and fall of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo. Based on my research for this novel, I learned a lot about the history of the Congo. Again, this was using a number of books pulled from the library regarding the Congo and Lumumba. That novel was almost picked up by Harper Collins. Alack and alas…

We all have those alack and alas moments, don’t we. What authors have inspired your writing?

I don’t know that any one author in particular has inspired me to write. However, I recently discovered Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian author, whose novels Feast of the Goat and War at the End of the World are remarkable. I highly recommend his work.


Chiku Flynn wasn’t born to be human. Her name in Swahili means ‘chatterbox’ but to the chimpanzees of the Maiku National Park, with whom she can communicate using sign language, she is known simply as Talk Talk.

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