Writer Peter Orner has been selected to receive the annual Bard Fiction Prize for 2007. Orner is receiving this year's Bard Fiction Prize for his first novel, set in Namibia, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo (Little, Brown and Company, 2006). He will be writer in residence at Bard College for the spring 2007 semester, where he will continue his writing, meet informally with students, and give a public reading.
The Bard Fiction Prize committee was impressed by Orner's evocation of an American sensibility coming to terms with Namibia and its proud, eloquent people in his novel, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo. "With the concentrated linguistic energy of an imagist poet, Orner creates remarkable miniatures: whole stories in his first book (Esther Stories) and tantalizingly brief chapters in this new novel, the committee wrote. His narrative vision allows the reader to reside concurrently in suggestive and declarative realms, which tell the story of intimacy among the humiliations of social and racial inequities."
A primary concern of Orner's is "how place influences character." In The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, he draws upon his own experience as a teacher in Namibia in the early '90s. Orner's novel explores the life and people of Goas, a semidesert area. His title character is a beautiful veteran of its war of independence against South Africa who returns to the Catholic all-boys school (where her brother-in-law is the principal) with her illegitimate son. Mavala Shikongo becomes the object of all her colleague's desires, including the American teacher who is the narrator of the story. Dave Eggers notes in the Guardian that this book "has the same sort of episodic structure, lyrical prose and completely hypnotic effect as the novels of Michael Ondaatje. . . It's a gorgeously written book, very funny, and bursting with soul."
Margot Livesey of the New York Times wrote of Orner's short story collection, Esther Stories (Houghton Mifflin, 2001), "Orner doesn't simply bring his characters to life, he gives them souls. Brooding, mysterious, ineffable, beautiful." Esther Stories was a New York Times Notable Book, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and winner of the Samuel Goldberg Prize for Jewish Fiction. Orner is the recipient of a 2006 Guggenheim Fellowship in Fiction, 2002–03 Rome Prize in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a 2003 Gold Medal for Fiction from the Association of Educational Publishers. His work has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories (Houghton Mifflin, 2001), Pushcart Prize Anthology (Pushcart Press, 2001), Lost Tribe Anthology: Jewish Fiction from the Edge (Harper Collins, 2003), Future Dictionary of America (McSweeney's, 2004), and Chicago Noir (Akashic Books, 2005), and has appeared in a number of national publications, including the Atlantic Monthly, Bomb, Harvard Review, McSweeney's, and Paris Review. Orner holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa, a degree in law from Northeastern University School of Law, and a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan. He lives in San Francisco and teaches writing at San Francisco State University.