Creative Writing Professor Peter Orner is one of 30 writers nationwide named finalists for the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award. His acclaimed collection Am I Alone Here? Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live is among five books nominated in the criticism category. On the book sleeve, however, author Dave Eggers says, “This book, thank god, defies any category.”
Am I Alone Here? (Catapult Press) is Orner’s “book of unlearned criticism that stumbles into memoir,” as he describes it. In the book’s essays, he analyzes the struggles in his own chaotic life, such as divorce and the death of his father, in comparison to the world’s literary greats. In the introduction, for example, Orner — writing from the San Francisco General Hospital cafeteria — reflects on Anton Chekhov’s realism while contemplating the isolating process of dying.
“The underlying force of Am I Alone Here is the desire to recover the ‘weight of what’s vanished’ and fiction’s alchemical ability to do so,” The New Yorker writes. A review in The New York Times states: “This is an ideal moment to appreciate a master of his form.”
The National Book Critics Circle Awards, begun in 1975 and considered among the most prestigious in American letters, are the sole prizes bestowed by a jury of working critics and book-review editors. The awards consist in six categories: autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The awards will be presented March 16 at the New School in New York City.
The Chicago-born Orner has lived in the Bay Area for the past 16 years. He is the author of two novels published by Little, Brown (The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, 2006; Love and Shame and Love, 2010) and two story collections (Esther Stories, 2001, 2013, and Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge, 2013), as well as the editor of two oral histories (Voice of Witness, McSweeney’s/Verso). His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, Granta, The Paris Review, McSweeney’s, The Southern Review and many other publications. Stories have been anthologized in Best American Stories and twice received a Pushcart Prize. Orner has been awarded the Rome Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a two-year Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship and a Fulbright to Namibia. He joined SF State in 2003.