The Second Coming of Peter Orner

Mavalashikongo In 2009, Peter Orner came to the Port Townsend Writers' Conference for the first time, to lead a packed-house workshop in fiction writing.

The sight of new, emerging, and established fiction writers descending the staircase from his classroom, eyes open, and minds alive, became a common daily sight.  

The inspiration and guidance of master writers with ardent students of writing is the steady heart at the center of the Conference, and 2010 will mark Orner's eagerly anticipated return.

Peter Orner is the author of two books: the widely praised collection of short fiction "Esther Stories" and the novel "The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo." He has received many honors for his fiction, including the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Goldberg Prize from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, Guggenheim and Lannan fellowships, and the Bard Fiction Prize, as well as inclusion in the "2001 Best American Short Stories" anthology for his short story "The Raft."

"The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo" takes as its epigraph a quotation from Hosea Kutako: "We Peter orner cannot speak with one voice, as we are scattered." The episodic novel, with its short chapters serving as glimpses into the world of a boys' school in Goas, Namibia, centers around the longing the teachers felt for their fellow teacher Mavala Shikongo. When she returns with a baby son, the teachers try not to fall in love with her, failing miserably–especially the American volunteer, Larry Kaplanski.

"I worked my ass off to try and get Namibia right because I love it," Orner said in an interview with Patrick Holian. "I lived in Namibia in the early nineties and I went back a number of times to do research for the book, and on those trips I did a number of interviews, immersed myself in the culture and stories, and collected literally hundreds and hundreds of pages of anecdotes about the place because I became so fascinated with it. Namibians have read the book and have said, God, you’ve captured this place, but I wasn’t really ready to do it until I was sure that I could make that leap…you have to make that leap, you leave the research behind and let these characters act and interact. You make that blind leap and trust yourself."

Orner's most recent project is the anthology "Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives", with a forward by Luis Alberto Urrea. Twenty-four stories are documented in the anthology. The storytellers hold many different jobs, have different reasons for leaving home and different expectations about U.S. life.

In addition to his workshop at the 2010 Port Townsend Writers' Conference (July 18-25), Peter Orner will give a reading of new work the evening of Monday, July 19, at 7:30 pm, and a craft lecture on Saturday, July 24, at 4 pm. Both events take place at the Joseph F. Wheeler Theater and are free and open to the public.

Registration for Peter Orner's fiction-writing workshop is available here, as well as by calling Centrum at 360.385.3102, x131.