Authors: Peter Ho Davies

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English short-story writer

Identity: Chinese descent

Author Works

Short Fiction:

The Ugliest House in the World, 1997

Equal Love, 2000

Biography

Peter Ho Davies was born on August 30, 1966, in Coventry, England. An only child, his father was Welsh, and his mother was Chinese from Malaysia. He attended the University of Manchester, from which he received a B.S. in physics and the history of philosophy and science. He also received a B.A. degree in English from Cambridge University in 1989. In 1992 he moved to the United States and attended Boston University, from which he received an M.A. in creative writing. Davies felt he had to leave Britain if he wanted to write and teach writing, for, at the time of his move, there were more than three hundred creative writing programs in the United States, while there were only ten in Britain.{$I[A]Davies, Peter Ho}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Davies, Peter Ho}{$I[geo]ASIAN AMERICAN/ASIAN DESCENT;Davies, Peter Ho}{$I[tim]1966;Davies, Peter Ho}

Davies’s first story, “The Ugliest House in the World,” appeared in 1995 in The Antioch Review and was promptly chosen for Best American Short Stories. More stories soon appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and The Paris Review. Davies lectured at Emory University in 1996 and 1997 and then took a job as assistant professor at the University of Oregon, after which he moved to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to teach in the M.F.A. program. He married Lynn Anne Raugley in 1994.

Davies dates his desire to be a writer to his teenage years, when he read a book titled Who Writes Science Fiction, by Charles Platt, a collection of interviews with science-fiction authors such as Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, and Harlan Ellison. Davies did not attend an author’s reading until he was in his twenties, and thus for a long time the only evidence he had that writers were real people, not some special class, were those interviews in Who Writes Science Fiction.

Davies’s stories were chosen for Best American Short Stories in 1995, 1996, and 2001 and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards in 1998. He was granted a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and received a number of other prizes, both in the United Kingdom and in the United States. Not a prolific writer, Davies enjoys teaching and often finds it more fun than writing. He realizes that although the two activities are complementary, he does not write as much when he is teaching. Moreover, he often spends a great deal of time researching background and extensively revising his fiction.

Davies once said that if his Welsh and Chinese background makes him an outsider, it is not in a cool way but rather in a slightly “geeky” way. Davies’s mother was born in a Chinese community in Malaysia, but he lived in Malaysia for only one year. Moreover, although his father was Welsh, Davies has never lived in Wales. He has said that what qualifies one as a member of a certain community is a complicated issue, which he tries to work through in his fiction.

Davies sets great store on using a number of voices in his fiction, but according to him, that fact is not so simple as having different voices for different ethnicities. He has questioned his right to some of the ethnic material that he uses, for his access to it is indirect.

Davies has said that although he cannot identify specific writers who have influenced him, one of the most important influences on his growing up was the unemployment that hung over Britain at the time. Majoring in physics was for him a practical matter, as he sought to be employable; coming from a middle-class background, he felt the threat of not finding a job.

Davies’s wide range of stories have a variety of locales. “The Ugliest House in the World,” the title story of his first book, focuses on a young man who visits his Welsh father, who is blamed by his fellow villagers when a young neighborhood boy dies on the old man’s property. “A Union” is a novella about a strike at a Welsh quarry in 1899, in which a man is caught between responsibility to his family and to his fellow workers. “The Hull Case” is about an African American man and his white wife, who claim they were abducted by aliens. Most of the reviews of Davies’s two collections praise the short stories for the variety of voices he uses and for the range of his experimentation.

BibliographyCarey, Jacqueline. “Ties That Bind.” The New York Times, March 19, 2000, p. 7-11. A review of Equal Love that praises Davies for his depiction of the burdens of family ties.Eder, Richard. “‘Equal Love’: When Children Become Parents of Their Parents.” Review of Equal Love, by Peter Ho Davies. The New York Times, February 2, 2000, p. E9. Eder comments that Davies writes with considerable skill but sometimes at the expense of “conveyed feeling.” Not all the stories are successful; the best are on the wild side. These include “The Next Life” and “The Hull Case.” The latter is the most “moving and suggestive” story in the collection.Fernandez, Jay A. “The Ugliest House in the World.” The Washington Post, January 4, 1998, p. X08. Says Davies is another example of the “mishmash” of global experiences. Calls the title story a flawless rendering of the effects of guilt.Hensher, Philip. “Arts and Books Feature.” The Daily Telegraph (London), February 19, 2000, p. 05. In this interview, Davies talks about how it felt to publish his first book, how he reacts to reviews, and the difficulty he has keeping from being distracted while writing.Kirkus Reviews. Review of The Ugliest House in the World, by Peter Ho Davies (July 15, 1997). This review finds the collection “ingenious, moving, and exasperating in turn.” The reviewer praises Davies’ insightful view of human nature and his skill in plotting, especially in the title story. Also singled out for praise are Davies’ originality and his affection for his characters in A Union. “Relief” and “Safe” are found to be the weaker stories.Mullan, John. “My New Found Land.” London Guardian, April 1, 2000, p. 9. A discussion of Equal Love that situates Davies’s fiction within the genre of the short story, arguing that the form gives Davies ranges of experiment.Reynolds, Susan Salter. “Equal Love.” Review of Equal Love, by Peter Ho Davies. The Los Angeles Times, February 6, 2000, p. 11. Brief review that selects “The Hull Case” as one of the best stories in the collection and in general praises the “dignified precision” with which Davies describes the inner lives of his characters.Steinberg, Sybil S. Review of Equal Love, by Peter Ho Davies. Publishers Weekly 246, no. 47 (November 22, 1999): 41. Davies’ stories use “resonant, precise images to pave the way to intimate truths.” The reviewer also praises Davies’ craftsmanship, complexity, and his “compassionate voice.”Steinberg, Sybil S. Review of The Ugliest House in the World, by Peter Ho Davies. Publishers Weekly 244, no. 33 (August 11, 1997): 384. Davies’ first collection is hailed for its “spare style, taut prose and arresting images,” the only weak point being the “melodramatic” A.
Categories: Authors