People who have been keeping up with my e-journal (I don't call it a blog anymore after finding out by a pro-blogger that blogging means writing every day, often four or five times a day, and getting into heated discussions with other bloggers), may recall me posting a few articles in previous years about Peter Hessler and his books and articles about life in China. I first met Peter in 2006 when he was the correspondent in China for the New Yorker magazine. He interviewed me for an article he was writing for the New Yorker about my friend David Spindler, the Great Wall Guru. Since then we've kept in touch on occasion by email and he has always had sage advice for me when it comes to good books and good writing. Last year I wrote a review of his trilogy on China, which can be found here. Back in 2007 I posted an interview with Peter Hessler.
Readers of my blog...er, e-journal, will know that I have great respect for Peter's books, which I think can be ranked among the best journalistic writing about China that non-Chinese journalists have produced over the past decade or so. What I like about his journalism is that it is personal and focuses on stories of everyday life, as well as his own interactions with people, but he delves deeply into the lives of the people he writes about in his books. Most journalists are focused on famous figures or "big events" and issues, which is all good and well, but Peter's books provide a much needed perspective into the daily lives and struggles of people who are often overlooked or swept into larger stories about the Chinese masses (e.g. the angry peasants, poor migrant workers, etc.) but aren't really developed as characters in their own write.
So I was very pleased to learn that Peter has been awarded a MacArthur Genius Award. I wrote him recently congratulating him on his award. Here's his reply:
"Hey Andrew, thanks for the note. That was great news, of course, and very unexpected. I’m glad to hear that things are well in Shanghai, although I can’t see how you handle all of those classes and your writing projects. I’ve reached the point where I can only do one thing at once. I feel very slow . . . . Glad you saw Evan and Jeff; I think Evan has done a great job. I don’t know him well but had a nice dinner with him this spring in Beijing. We are moving to Cairo next month, so I think it’ll probably be a while before I’m back in China. But someday we’ll return to live there – maybe a few years from now. And to be honest I really enjoyed doing a few US-based stories over the past year or two. Nice to write about other subjects. Good luck with everything and stay in touch – Pete"
(In my message to Peter I told him that I'd recently seen Evan Osnos and Jeff Wasserstrom give a talk at the Glamour Bar on the Bund. Evan, who took over Peter's role as the China correspondent for the New Yorker, seemed to be involved in a lot of interesting stories about contemporary Chinese society, and he is gearing up to publish a book as well.)
Coincidentally, my step-father Andrew Bodge just wrote me today saying that he'd finished reading Peter's book Country Driving. I quote him here: