Winner of the 2020 Acheven Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction
I was born and raised in Austin, MN, the birthplace of SPAM (the food, not the computer kind), the youngest of four children. I was a quiet child, neither athletic nor outgoing and anxious about pretty much everything, and because of that I was often teased and bullied. Stories, both those I found in books and those I imagined in my frequent daydreaming, were a refuge for me. In school, numbers and microscopes were terrifying, but words were a different story. Thanks to outstanding teachers throughout junior high and high school, I quickly found a home in writing and I went on to major in journalism as an undergraduate in college.
Despite wanting to be a writer for as long as I could remember, I didn’t come to serious fiction writing until much later in life, well after I earned a J.D. and began a career as an attorney. But the need to write, it seemed, though dormant for a long time and set aside by the daily challenges of life and work, never really left me. I started taking classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, an incredible resource for someone taking those first few tentative steps as a fiction writer, and within a few years I’d published a couple of short stories in small literary journals. Then, some ten years after graduating law school, I sold my house, quit my job, and moved to New York to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence College. “Life changing” is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but my time there was exactly that, because I finally started to think of myself as a writer.
For two years I wrote nearly everyday, mostly about what I’d left behind: the Midwest, my career as a reluctant lawyer, childhood, coming out, family and family histories, relationships begun and ended. I returned to the Twin Cities after graduating and juggled a part time corporate job with teaching composition, creative writing, business writing, and whatever else was thrown my way as an adjunct at several colleges (sometimes all on the same day), because I wanted to teach almost as much as I wanted to write.
Eventually I landed a full-time position at the University of Minnesota, where I’m now a faculty member in the College of Education and Human Development. My teaching portfolio is broad, including courses in workplace writing, work with graduate students writing master’s theses, and undergraduate courses in the future of work. Even though, like writing, it took me a long time to get there and I greatly value my legal education and experience, in terms of a job teaching is the one thing that has made the most sense to me, and I’m grateful that I get to work with talented and curious students for a living.
Along the way I’ve continued to publish short fiction in a variety of literary magazines and anthologies, including Great River Review, Water~Stone Review, Queer Voices, and other publications. Oranges, my debut linked short story collection, won the Many Voices Project competition and was published by New Rivers Press in 2018. It also received the Gold Medal for LGBT+ fiction in the Independent Publisher Book Awards, the Midwest Book Award, and was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award and the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. “Wedding,” a story from my collection, was featured on Selected Shorts, the long running public radio program featuring short fiction performed by Broadway, television, and film actors, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.
I’m grateful to have been awarded artist residencies to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Ragdale Foundation, the Anderson Center, the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, the Millay Colony for the Arts, the Golden Apple Art Residency, the Tofte Lake Center, and others, for providing the gift of time and space to write.
My debut novel, currently titled Carl Paulsen, won the 2020 Acheven Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction and is forthcoming from Fitzroy Books.
I make my home in St. Paul in a 1923 prairie style house just steps from the Mississippi River with my partner Tom, a technical writer.
You can find out more about me at garyeldonpeter.com.