Peter Hessler

Peter Hessler
Born (1969-06-14) June 14, 1969
Occupation Writer, journalist
Language English, Chinese
Nationality American
Alma mater Princeton University
Mansfield College, Oxford
Notable works
Notable awards MacArthur Fellowship
Kiriyama Prize
Nominated for National Book Award for Nonfiction
Spouse Leslie T. Chang

Peter Hessler (born June 14, 1969) is an American writer and journalist. He is the author of three acclaimed[1] books about China and has contributed numerous articles to The New Yorker and National Geographic, among other publications. In 2011, Hessler received a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" 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

Peter Hessler grew up in Columbia, Missouri and graduated from Hickman High School in 1988. He went on to study English and creative writing at Princeton University, where, during his junior year, he took John McPhee's renowned writing seminar, which Hessler describes as a "revelation."[3] Hessler graduated in 1992 and won a Rhodes Scholarship to study English language and literature at the University of Oxford.[4]

The summer before graduating from Princeton, Hessler worked as a researcher for the Kellogg Foundation in southeastern Missouri. He wrote an extensive ethnography about a small town called Sikeston, which was published in the Journal for Applied Anthropology.[5]


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 city.[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 Geographic.[7] Hessler joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2000 and served as foreign correspondent for the same publication until 2007.[8]

He is best known for his three 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,[4] 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).

Hessler left China in 2007 and settled in Ridgeway, Colorado[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] He has stated that he envisions spending five or six years in the Middle East.[12]


Hessler is married to journalist and writer Leslie T. Chang.[13][14] They are the parents of twin daughters born in 2010.[3][12]

Hessler's Chinese name is (Hé Wěi).



  2. "MacArthur Fellows Program: Meet the 2011 Fellows". September 20, 2011. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 20 September 2011.
  3. 1 2
  4. 1 2 As stated by Hessler in "Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present", John Murray Publishers, London, 2006.
  5. 2006 National Book Award Finalist, Nonfiction
  6. Hessler, Peter (2001). River Town: two years on the Yangtze. Harper Collins.
  7. Peter Hessler, Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding Update
  8. Peter Hessler, The New Yorker
  9. Times: An interview with Peter Hessler - Hot Metal Bridge Retrieved 2016.11-13.
  12. 1 2
  14. "MacArthur Foundation 'genius grant' recipients". Archived from the original on Oct 16, 2011.
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