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Faculty wins Lannan Literary Fellowship

November 20, 2006

The front cover of Peter Orner's novel "The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo"Peter Orner, assistant professor of creative writing, is one of five writers to win a 2006 Lannan Literary Fellowship. Awarded by the Los Angeles-based Lannan Foundation, the fellowship honors both established and emerging writers of distinctive literary merit who demonstrate potential for continued outstanding work.

Orner is the only fiction writer awarded a fellowship from Lannan this year. The other winners are Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer for The New Yorker; Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and senior fellow at The Nation; Charles C. Mann, a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly and the journal Science; and award-winning poet, Brian Turner. Candidates for the Lannan Fellowships are recommended to the foundation by a network of writers, literary scholars, publishers and editors who serve anonymously.

"I'm humbled -- and totally surprised," Orner said. He added that he is proud to be in the company of the other fellowship recipients, especially Turner, an Iraq War veteran who writes lyric poetry. "It's great that there are people like those at Lannan who recognize the importance of helping writers at the beginning of their careers."

Orner is enjoying rave reviews for his second book of fiction, "The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo," published earlier this year by Little, Brown and co. The Boston Globe wrote: "With this staggering debut novel, Orner has joined the first rank of American writers." The innovatively constructed novel is set in Namibia in the early 1990s after the country's long-fought war for independence from South Africa.

"I'm gratified that a novel about a small country in Africa seems to be resonating with people, though the terrain might be unfamiliar to readers," said Orner, who has lived in southern Africa. "I wanted to write something to show how totally unique the people in this part of the world are –- unique and ordinary, like us all."

A native of Chicago, Orner has also received the Pushcart Prize, the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. His work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review and Best American Stories.

"We are proud that Peter is a member of our faculty,"Creative Writing Department Chair Maxine Chernoff said. "He's a great writer, a great guy and our students love his classes."

Excerpts from "The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo," and information about his first book, "Esther Stories," can be found on Orner's Web site.

-- Denize Springer


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