MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 2011

Peter Hessler

Long-Form Journalist

Ridgway, CO

Age: 42

Published September 20, 2011

Peter Hessler is a long-form journalist whose three books and numerous magazine articles explore the complexities of life in Reform Era China as it undergoes one of the fastest social transformations in history. Drawing upon a decade-long immersion in Chinese culture as well as extensive travels and historical research, Hessler writes with a novelist's attention to detail and structures his stories around the compelling characters he encounters. Offering Anglophone readers perspectives on China that delve well beyond those of standard news coverage, he provides moving and keenly observed accounts of how ordinary people — ranging from students to farmers to engineers and entrepreneurs — respond to rapidly shifting opportunities and constraints. His first book, River Town (2001), chronicles his experiences teaching in the remote province of Sichuan, in a small city about to be flooded by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. In Oracle Bones (2006), Hessler expands upon shorter articles originally published in the New Yorker, juxtaposing portraits of several different Chinese lives to discern larger themes in the manner of an archaeologist arranging and interpreting fragments from the past. The personal stories he recounts include those of a migrant factory worker, a Uighur money-trader seeking political asylum in the United States, and a scholar of oracle bone inscriptions, an early form of Chinese writing. Hessler's third book, Country Driving (2010), investigates the effects of China's auto boom on regions ranging from all-but-abandoned rural villages to expanding industrial centers. With recent pieces focused on other locales and subjects, such as the American Southwest and a Peace Corps project in Nepal, he continues to weave multiple narrative threads into richly illuminating depictions of people and places confronted with a staggering pace of change.

Peter Hessler received a B.A. (1992) from Princeton University and a B.A. (1994) from the University of Oxford. He served as Beijing correspondent for the New Yorker from 2000 to 2007, and he continues to publish articles and essays in the New Yorker as well as National Geographic.


High-resolution photos for download. Photos are owned by the MacArthur Foundation and licensed under a Creative Commons license: CC-BY. Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Right-click on a link below to save the file to your computer.

Peter Hessler In the Media

"Tales of the Trash"  thumbnail

"Tales of the Trash"

The New Yorker
Peter Hessler, 2011 MacArthur Fellow
Read More
"Election Day" thumbnail

"Election Day"

The New Yorker
Peter Hessler, 2011 MacArthur Fellow
Read More

About the Fellows Program

The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. Learn More

Joshua Oppenheimer, Documentary Filmmaker

Class of 2014

22 New MacArthur Fellows Announced

Working across a broad spectrum of endeavors, the Fellows were selected for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future. Read More