“How would I describe my writing style?” asks
Michigan Fine Arts Creative Writing Chair Peter Ho Davies, who was
recently listed as one of the 40 best young British novelists by
Granta. “I would describe it as
‘indiscribable.’”

Janna Hutz
Davies

While Davies prefers not to limit himself stylistically, much of
his work shares a common theme. “Most of my stories have
autobiographical roots,” he said. “They are emotionally
autobiographical.”

In his acclaimed short story collection “The Ugliest House
in the World,” the narrator, a young medical student,
describes a trip to visit his aging Welsh father. “Writers
rehearse their fears in fiction,” Davies commented.
“This story represents my worst fear for what my father might
become. I also have anxieties about the aging process.”

In addition to creating characters who manifest his own fears,
Davies often sets his stories in Wales, his father’s
homeland. Davies stories also reflect the influence of his Chinese
mother. “I am torn between my Welsh and Chinese
heritage,” he said. “I don’t know either culture
as well as someone who is only a part of one of them. I have this
sense of being an outsider, which is something that many writers
feel. Often, I write to find out where I’ve come from.
Fiction helps fill in the gaps.”

It might seem that for Davies, whose work has been selected
repeatedly for Best American Short Stories, a writing career would
be a matter of predestination. However, Davies was originally
marked for a scientific path. “I have always loved
litterature and writing,” he explained. “But when I was
growing up in England in the early ‘80s, you wanted a degree
that would help you get a job.”

While studying physics at Manchester University, Davies
continued to write. “I had a short story published in a
British magazine, The Critical Quarterly,” he said,
“which gave me encouragement as a writer.”

Davies went on to receive a bachelor of arts in English from
Cambridge University. He then decided to go on for a masters in
creative writing at Boston University.

“In Britain, there were very few creative writing programs
and less fellowships for writers,” he explained. “I had
always wanted to go to the United States, so I thought studying
here would be exciting.”

Since he began teaching at the University of Michigan in 2000,
Davies has developed a certain philosophy in the classroom.
“I can’t give talent, but I can help students maximize
their talent and learn aspects of the craft. I ask students,
‘What are you trying to achieve?’ and then help them
understand whether they are achieving those goals.”

In addition to teaching, Davies is in the process of writing a
novel, which will come out in 2005. “It is set in Wales after
World War II, when German prisoners of war come to work on the
Welsh farms,” he explained. “This creates a clash of
cultures.” Because his two major published works, “The
Ugliest House in the World” and “Equal Love,” are
short story collections, Davies finds it “a challenge”
to write a novel.

“You have to be more patient,” he said. “In a
short story collection, you have the flexibility to move back and
forth in time and to shift stylistically. In a novel, the challenge
is that you are obliged to be consistent.”

Of his numerous writing awards and publications, Davies
considers his selection for Granta’s list to be one of the
most significant. “This was an honor because the list first
came out when I was seventeen,” he recalled. “At that
time in my life, seeing that young, living people write was
something that encouraged me.” He added, “Also, one of
my stories was included in The Paris Review Anthology, on the
opposite page from Kurt Vonnegut, whom I idolized as a young
writer.”

Although Davies has received considerable recogntion for his
writing, he believes writers do not have to choose a single path.
“There are two types of writers: writers who feel that they
have to write because it’s the only thing they can or want to
do, and writers who could be successful doing many different
things,” he remarked. “I’m still not entirely
sure which category I fit into.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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