Individual Author Record
Name: Peter OrnerPen Name: None Genre: Born: 1968 in Highland Park, Illinois Sites:
Illinois ConnectionOrner grew up in Highland Park and graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston.
Biographical and Professional InformationThe product of four generations of lawyers, Peter Orner moved to Washington after college, working as a limousine driver, with the expectation that he would go into politics. But then he went to Namibia, Africa to teach. Although he had fallen in love with writing, Mr. Orner followed in his family’s footsteps and got a law degree from Northwestern University. From there, he went directly into a graduate writing program at the University of Iowa. In 2001, Orner moved to the Bay area to teach at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is an Associate Professor at San Francisco State University and has taught mostly graduate-level writing while there. Orner's experiences in Africa became fodder for his first novel, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo. His work there as a pro bono immigration lawyer helped in his editing of two non-fiction books, Underground America and Hope Deferred: Narratives of Zimbabwean Lives. Both books are published by McSweeney's/ Voice of Witness, an imprint devoted to using oral history to illuminate human rights crises around the world. His work has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly and The Best American Short Stories, and has been awarded two Pushcart Prizes.Orner currently resides in Bolinas, California.
- Esther Stories, Houghton Mifflin, 2001
- The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, Little, Brown and Company, 2007
- Love and Shame and Love, Little, Brown and Company, 2011
- Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge, Little Brown and Company, 2013
- Am I Alone Here?: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live, Catapult, 2016
Titles At Your Library
ISBN: 0618128735 Mariner Books. 2001
Peter Orner explores the impact of life’s essential moments, those brief but far-reaching occasions that haunt his characters. The discovery of a crime, a theatrical performance in a small town, or the recollection of a cruel wartime decision are equally affecting in Orner’s vivid scenarios. Esther Stories is divided into four distinct parts, each with its own momentum. The first half of the book concerns the lives of unrelated strangers, and the second introduces two Jewish families, one on the East Coast, the other in the Midwest.
These stories cover considerable geographic ground from Nova Scotia to Mississippi, from Fall River, Massachusetts, to Chicago but the real territory is emotional. As the narrator of the title story tries to piece together his late aunt Esther’s life from the fragments of stories told about her, he remembers what she told him in a dark kitchen when he was a child: You pay for everything. When you think you’re getting something for free remember this you’ll pay later.” All thirty-two wide-ranging pieces funny or sorrowful, urban or rural, simple or innovative are welcome additions to the art of the story.
The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo: A Novel
ISBN: 0316066338 Back Bay Books. 2007 When Mavala Shikongo deserted them, the teachers at the boys' school in Goas weren't surprised. How could they be? She was too beautiful, too powerful, and too mysterious for their tiny, remote, and arid world. They knew only one essential fact about their departed colleague: she was a combat veteran of Namibia's brutal war for independence. When Mavala returns to Goas with a baby son, all are awed by her boldness. The teachers try hard, once again, not to fall in love with her. They fail, immediately and miserably, especially the American volunteer, Larry Kaplanski.
Love and Shame and Love: A Novel
ISBN: 0316129399 Little, Brown and Company. 2011 Alexander Popper can't stop remembering. Four years old when his father tossed him into Lake Michigan, he was told, Sink or swim, kid. In his mind, he's still bobbing in that frigid water. The rest of this novel's vivid cast of characters also struggle to remain afloat: Popper's mother, stymied by an unhappy marriage, seeks solace in the relentless energy of Chicago his brother, Leo, shadow boss of the family, retreats into books paternal grandparents, Seymour and Bernice, once high fliers, now mourn for long lost days his father, a lawyer and would-be politician obsessed with his own success, fails to see that the family is falling apart and his college girlfriend, the fiercely independent Kat, wrestles with impossible choices.
Covering four generations of the Popper family, Peter Orner illuminates the countless ways that love both makes us whole and completely unravels us. A comic and sorrowful tapestry of memory of connection and disconnection, Love and Shame and Love explores the universals with stunning originality and wisdom.
Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge
ISBN: 0316224642 Little, Brown and Company. 2013 "A ravishing collection, full of wisdom, grief, beauty, and especially surprise."--Anthony Doerr, author of The Shell Collectors
Peter Orner zeroes in on the strange ways our memories define us: A woman's husband dies before their divorce is finalized a man runs for governor of Illinois and loses much more than an election two brothers play beneath the infamous bridge at Chappaquiddick. Employing the masterful compression for which he has been widely praised, Orner presents a kaleidoscope of individual lives viewed in startling, intimate close-up.
Whether writing of Geraldo Rivera's attempt to reveal the contents of Al Capone's vault or of a father and daughter trying to outrun a hurricane, Orner illuminates universal themes. In stories that span considerable geographic ground--from Chicago to Wyoming, from Massachusetts to the Czech Republic--he writes of the past we can't seem to shake, the losses we can't make up for, and the power of our stories to help us reclaim what we thought was gone forever.
Am I Alone Here?: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live
ISBN: 1936787253 Catapult. 2016 A National Book Critics Circle Award finalist in Criticism
Stories, both my own and those I’ve taken to heart, make up whoever it is that I’ve become,” Peter Orner writes in this collection of essays about reading, writing, and living. Orner readsand writeseverywhere he finds himself: a hospital cafeteria, a coffee shop in Albania, or a crowded bus in Haiti. The result is a book of unlearned meditations that stumbles into memoir.” Among the many writers Orner addresses are Isaac Babel and Zora Neale Hurston, both of whom told their truths and were silenced Franz Kafka, who professed loneliness but craved connection Robert Walser, who spent the last twenty-three years of his life in a Swiss insane asylum, working” at being crazy and Juan Rulfo, who practiced the difficult art of silence. Virginia Woolf, Eudora Welty, Yasunari Kawabata, Saul Bellow, Mavis Gallant, John Edgar Wideman, William Trevor, and Václav Havel make appearances, as well as the poet Herbert Morrisabout whom almost nothing is known.
An elegy for an eccentric late father, and the end of a marriage, Am I Alone Here? is also a celebration of the possibility of renewal. At once personal and panoramic, this book will inspire readers to return to the essential stories of their own lives.