Gary Peter’s Oranges is Somewhat Autobiographical in Nature
By Rachel M. Anderson, Contributing Writer
(Minneapolis) – University of Minnesota professor Gary Eldon Peter always tells his students the best stories are often those that are based on personal experience. So, when it came time for him to try his hand at long-form writing, it only made sense for him to write about what he knows; and his hard work has paid off.
His debut short story collection, Oranges, won the 2016 New Rivers Press Many Voices Project competition in prose, and was a finalist for the 2015 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. New Rivers Press released Oranges in Fall 2018.
The book features a collection of linked short stories about the life of Michael, a gay man from the Midwest who must find his own confusing path to adulthood after personal loss. In addition to the loss of his partner, Michael is confronted with a number of challenges, including coming to terms with his sexuality in the age of AIDS, facing his family’s difficulties accepting him, and dealing with the death of his mother and the aging of his father.
“The book is very much based on the events of my life as a gay man and how I observe life, history, and relationships because of that. And the central character is a lawyer who is reluctant about that career choice, which I was as well. I also worked in a hospital like Michael, and there are other similarities too,” says Peter. Still, he adds, Oranges is a work of fiction.
“I wanted to work with the nuggets of truth present in the stories, but make them even more meaningful and compelling through the elements of fiction. In that way, ‘what happened’ serves as a jumping off point to creating stories that I hope are richer because I was willing to let my imagination take over.”
Novelistic in scope, Oranges is about the never-ending search for connection, validation, intimacy, and, above all, love. “I’m not a very ‘descriptive’ writer or metaphorical type writer. I don’t really deal in image like a lot of writers, or even setting necessarily. I’m very much focused on the development of character and interaction between characters.”
Early reviews for Oranges have been very favorable. Sheila O’Connor, author of Where No Gods Came and Keeping Safe the Stars, said, “Gary Eldon Peter’s debut collection Oranges is the work of a short story writer with a keen sense of the human heart. These powerful stories, told with startling honesty and compassion, serve as evidence of our universal longing for deep connection. Carefully rendered and tenderly imagined, full of flawed and utterly convincing characters, this is a collection that honors small mercies and the transformative power of love.”
“Oranges is a book of quiet, enormous strength, a collection of slow-gathering moments that add up to the story of Michael Dolin, a gay man whose life and loves are shaped by the AIDS crisis, Midwestern social strictures and expectations for men. There is so much here, such compassion, such nerve and bite—this is a beautiful book, full of sorrow, surprise, and delight,” said Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry.
“Gary Eldon Peter writes stories of great intimacy and wit, with an eye toward those awkward moments in which we are often most human and alive and hard to contain. I couldn’t put Oranges down and missed it the instant I finished,” said Paul Lisicky, author of The Narrow Door: A Memoir Of Friendship.
As for what’s next, Peter says he is planning to step outside his comfort zone and try writing stories that are less autobiographical. He is also working on a novel now about a gay teenager living on a dairy farm in Southern Minnesota, and writing new short stories.
Oranges by Gary Eldon Peter officially launched at the 18th annual Twin Cities Book Festival on Oct. 13 at the Minnesota State Fair Grounds.
For more information, go to www.garyeldonpeter.com.
About the Author
Gary Eldon Peter of St. Paul, Minn., knew from a young age that he was destined to become a writer. “My mom worked in a library, so there was a lot of support for reading. I had some excellent English and journalism teachers in high school and college,” he said.
After graduating from college, he went to law school and went on to work as a judicial clerk, as well as for a law firm and later in legal publishing. In 1994, he went back to school to pursue a MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College in New York. He graduated in 1996.
Today, Peter is a faculty member for College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. He teachers First Year Inquiry, which introduces new college students to issues related to politics, law and several other subjects through both fiction and non-fiction. He also teaches Writing in the Workplace, which helps upper division students learn best practices for communicating in the workplace; Reflections of Law and Justice, which is a film and television course about how popular culture reflects our understanding of how the law works; and a graduate level writing course for students working on their master’s degree papers.
Gary Eldon Peter’s short stories have appeared in Callisto, Water~Stone Review, Great River Review, and other publications. His linked short story collection, Oranges, won the 2016 New Rivers Press Many Voices Project competition in Prose and was a finalist for the 2015 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. New Rivers Press will publish Oranges in Fall 2018.
Gary Eldon Peter is a native of Austin, Minn. When not writing or teaching, he enjoys cooking, baking and spending time exercising.