Returned Peace Corps
Volunteers of South Florida

Peter Hessler, RPCV, Speaking at Books & Books

  • 10 May 2019
  • 8:00 PM - 9:00 PM
  • Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables

Hessler joined the Peace Corps in 1996 and was sent to China for two years to teach English at Fuling Teachers College, a teachers college in Fuling, a small city near the Yangtze River in Chongqing.[6]He later worked in China as freelance writer for numerous publications such as the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the South China Morning Post, and National GeographicHessler joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2000 and served as foreign correspondent for the same publication until 2007.

He is best known for his four books on China. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (2001) is a Kiriyama Prize-winning book about his experiences in two years as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching English in China. Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China (2006) features a series of parallel episodes featuring his former students, a Uighur dissident who fled to the U.S., and the archaeologist Chen Mengjia who committed suicide during the Cultural Revolution. His third book, Country Driving: A Journey from Farm to Factory (2010), is a record of Hessler's journeys driving a rented car from rural northern Chinese counties to the factory towns of southern China, and the significant economic and industrial growth taking place there.

While his stories are about ordinary people's lives in China and are not motivated by politics, they nevertheless touch upon political issues or the lives of people who encountered problems during the Cultural Revolution, one example being that of the story of the archaeologist Chen Mengjia and his wife, poet and translator Zhao Luorui(a.k.a. Lucy Chao). In 2013, he published his latest book, Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West (2013), which, consistently with his previous works, also covers China's ordinary people and life.

Hessler left China in 2007 and settled in Ridgway, Colorado and has continued to publish articles in The New Yorker on topics including the Peace Corps in Nepal and small towns in Colorado.

In October 2011, Hessler and his family moved to Cairo, where he will cover the Middle East for The New Yorker. In an interview upon being named a MacArthur Fellow in September 2011, Hessler expressed his intention to spend much of the next year learning Arabic. He has stated that he envisions spending five or six years in the Middle East. While living there, he and his wife both learned Egyptian Arabic.

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