Peter Hessler

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Peter Hessler
Born (1969-06-14) June 14, 1969 (age 52)
Pen name何伟 (Hé Wěi) (in China)
OccupationWriter, journalist
LanguageEnglish, Chinese, Egyptian Arabic
Alma materPrinceton University
Mansfield College, Oxford
Notable works
Notable awardsMacArthur Fellowship
Kiriyama Prize
Nominated for National Book Award for Nonfiction
SpouseLeslie T. Chang

Peter Benjamin Hessler[1] (born (1969-06-14)June 14, 1969) is an American writer and journalist. He is the author of four books about China and has contributed numerous articles to The New Yorker and National Geographic, among other publications. In 2011, Hessler received a MacArthur Fellowship in recognition and encouragement of his "keenly observed accounts of ordinary people responding to the complexities of life in such rapidly changing societies as Reform Era China."[2]

Early life[edit]

Hessler grew up in Columbia, Missouri, and graduated from Hickman High School in 1988. He studied at Princeton University, where he graduated with an A.B. in English in 1992 after completing a senior thesis titled "Dead Man's Shoes and Other Stories."[3] During his junior year, he studied in John McPhee's writing seminar.[4] After graduating from Princeton, Hessler received a Rhodes Scholarship to study English language and literature at Mansfield College, University of Oxford.[5]

The summer before graduating from Princeton, Hessler worked as a researcher for the Kellogg Foundation in southeastern Missouri. He wrote an extensive ethnography about the small town of Sikeston, which was published in the Society for Applied Anthropology.[6]


Hessler joined the Peace Corps in 1996 and was sent to China for two years to teach English at Fuling Teachers College, in a small city near the Yangtze River in Chongqing.[7][8] He later worked in China as freelance writer for publications such as the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the South China Morning Post, and National Geographic.[9] Hessler joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2000 and served as foreign correspondent until 2007.[10]

Hessler has written 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,[5] 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. In 2013, he published Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West (2013), which, consistent with his previous works, also covers China's ordinary people and life.

Hessler left China in 2007 and settled in Ridgway, Colorado,[11] where he 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 covered the Middle East for The New Yorker.[12] 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.[13] He stated that he envisioned spending five or six years in the Middle East.[14] While living there, he and his wife both learned Egyptian Arabic.[15] In 2019 he published The Buried: An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution, a book detailing his experiences of Egypt during the Arab Spring.

In August 2019, Hessler and his family moved to Chengdu in southwest China.[16] Hessler taught non-fiction writing at Sichuan University - Pittsburgh Institute.[17][18][19] During his time in Chengdu, Hessler wrote several pieces for The New Yorker about how China handled the COVID-19 pandemic. Because Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute declined to renew his teaching contract, he and his family moved back to Colorado at the end of the first semester of 2021.[20][21]

Personal life[edit]

Hessler is married to journalist and writer Leslie T. Chang.[22][23] They are the parents of twin daughters born in 2010.[4][14]



  1. ^ "32 U.S. Rhodes Scholars Are Selected to Study in Oxford for 1992". The New York Times. Associated Press. 1991-12-09. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  2. ^ "MacArthur Fellows Program: Meet the 2011 Fellows Hessler, Peter Doctor of Letters, UMC conferred May 18, 2013". John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 20 September 2011.
  3. ^ Hessler, Peter (1992). "Dead Man's Shoes and Other Stories". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ a b[dead link]
  5. ^ a b As stated by Hessler in "Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present", John Murray Publishers, London, 2006.
  6. ^ 2006 National Book Award Finalist, Nonfiction
  7. ^ Hessler, Peter. "The Peace Corps Breaks Ties with China". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2020-06-26.
  8. ^ Hessler, Peter (2001). River Town: two years on the Yangtze. Harper Collins.
  9. ^ "Travel Writer: Peter Hessler". July 2002.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. ^ Peter Hessler, The New Yorker Archived 2014-07-03 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Times: An interview with Peter Hessler - Hot Metal Bridge[permanent dead link] Retrieved 2016.11-13.
  12. ^ "Peter Hessler and Kay Ryan, 2011 Geniuses". The New Yorker. 20 September 2011.
  13. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Long-Form Journalist Peter Hessler: 2011 MacArthur Fellow | MacArthur Foundation". YouTube.
  14. ^ a b[dead link]
  15. ^ "Talk Like an Egyptian", Letter from Cairo, New Yorker, April 17, 2017
  16. ^ Foley, Dylan (August 28, 2019). "Journalist Peter Hessler on Moving to Egypt After the Revolution". Literary Hub. No. Literary Hub. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
  17. ^ "《寻路中国》作者何伟回来了,全家定居成都,任教四川大学" [Peter Hessler, the author of Country Driving, returned and his family settled in Chengdu to teach at Sichuan University]. The Paper (in Chinese). 30 August 2019. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
  18. ^ "Peter Hessler". Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute. Archived from the original on 22 May 2020. Retrieved 10 September 2019.
  19. ^ Bures, Frank (2019-10-16). "Unearthing the Story: An Interview with Peter Hessler". Longread. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  20. ^ "China author Peter Hessler loses teaching post at Sichuan University". South China Morning Post. 31 May 2021.
  21. ^ He, Yujia (July 19, 2021). "Peter Hessler's Last Class". Sixth Tone.
  22. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-05-20. Retrieved 2010-12-07.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. ^ "MacArthur Foundation 'genius grant' recipients". Archived from the original on October 16, 2011.

External links[edit]