Percy, Benjamin 1979–
Percy, Benjamin 1979–
Born 1979; married; wife's name Lisa; children: Connor. Education: Brown University, B.A. (with honors); Southern Illinois University, M.F.A. Hobbies and other interests: Hiking, canoeing, fishing, skiing, family, and friends.
Academic, teacher, and author. Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, visiting assistant professor for three years; University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, assistant professor; Iowa State University, Ames, M.F.A. program, assistant professor of English and creative writing, 2008—.
Tennessee Williams Scholarship, Sewanee Writers' Conference, 2003; Idaho Review Editor's Prize, 2004, for short story "Swans"; Tamarack Award, Minnesota Monthly, 2006, for short story "Where to Begin"; Plimpton Prize, Paris Review, and Pushcart Prize, both 2007, both for short story "Refresh, Refresh"; John Gardner Fellowship in Fiction, Breadloaf Writer's Conference, 2007; Pushcart Prize Fellowship, 2007; Ann Powers Book-Length Fiction Award, Council for Wisconsin Writers, 2008.
The Language of Elk (short fiction), Carnegie Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 2006.
Refresh, Refresh: Stories (short fiction), Graywolf Press (Saint Paul, MN), 2007.
Contributor of stories to Best American Short Stories, edited by Ann Patchett, 2006; and The Pushcart Prize XXXI: Best of the Small Presses, 2007.
Contributor of book reviews and stories to periodicals, including Esquire, Men's Journal, Glimmer Train, Missouri Review, Antioch Review, and American Short Fiction.
"Refresh, Refresh" was adapted for film by writer and director James Ponsoldt, 2007.
Benjamin Percy is a short-story writer whose work has drawn considerable critical attention. He was raised in central Oregon, and most of his fiction is set in the Pacific Northwest. Percy began submitting stories to magazines when he was still an undergraduate in college and had his first acceptance during his year in graduate school. His first collection of stories was published as The Language of Elk.
Percy's second collection, Refresh, Refresh: Stories, takes its title from Percy's prizewinning story "Refresh, Refresh." It was awarded the George Plimpton Prize and a Pushcart Prize, both prestigious honors for a short story. Weston Cutter, who interviewed Percy for Bookslut, described "Refresh, Refresh" as an "incredibly accomplished" piece of fiction. Set in rural Oregon, it concerns young men whose fathers are called up as Army Reserve members and sent to fight in the Iraq War.
Considering the fame and accolades that one story earned, Cutter expressed the opinion that it might be difficult for the other stories in the collection to measure up to the high standard it set, but he also reported that the rest of Percy's writing did indeed compare favorably to "Refresh, Refresh." Many of the stories in the collection concern the gritty, difficult lives of men in small Oregon towns, and they frequently involve violence and blood. "These are hard-hitting stories from a writer to watch," advised Joanne Wilkinson in Booklist. Cutter wrote: "Percy's stories are vivid glimpses of people in (usually) heavy duty situations, the sort where single decisions mean the difference between something like salvation and something like its opposite. His writing is both generous and hard-edged, so stark at times to feel nearly carved. Most movingly, the moments of grace Percy's characters face never feel forced—their redemption is true, earned, and often wonderfully moving." A Publishers Weekly writer commented that the author's skill at placing unusual characters in "difficult contemporary settings" results in "a memorable collection."
In his interview with Cutter, Percy remarked: "I'm influenced—primarily—by a troubled mind. Sometime during my childhood, maybe when I fell from my [tree house] and split open my head on a rock, some wires in my brain crossed and fused together. I can never turn my imagination off. I can never not live in two worlds at once. This is why I'm a dangerous driver."
In an interview with G. Christopher Williams for the PopMatters Web site, Percy commented on his approach to writing fiction, stating that much modern "literary" fiction is laden with "gorgeous metaphors, gorgeous language, with so many stories ending sparkling with epiphanic dew." Percy adds that in this type of fiction, little actually happens. He continues, "It's as though authors have lost touch with what made them fall in love with reading: plot, story. And I think there's something healthy about getting in touch with this again. So I'll take a haunted house story … or a tale of revenge and reinvent it through a literary lens, honoring some of the archetypes and conventions, breaking others over my knee, in an effort to make the reader feel at once moved and entertained."
Asked by Williams about his writing routine, Percy said, "I try to write at the same time in the same place every day. You must condition your imagination, in a Pavlovian way, to salivate … the bell rings, and I'm off. There are no tricks to what I do, really … [Staying] in a chair everyday is about it. And not checking my email … not getting up for a break when the writing gets difficult. Talent matters, but discipline matters more."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 2007, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Refresh, Refresh: Stories, p. 56.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2007, review of Refresh, Refresh.
Library Journal, September 15, 2007, Christopher Bussmann, review of Refresh, Refresh, p. 55.
Publishers Weekly, August 20, 2007, review of Refresh, Refresh, p. 46.
School Library Journal, December 1, 2007, Jennifer Waters, review of Refresh, Refresh, p. 160.
Benjamin Percy's Home Page,http://www.benjaminpercy.com (June 19, 2008).
Bookslut,http://www.bookslut.com/ (October, 2007), Weston Cutter, interview with Benjamin Percy.
Elegant Variation,http://marksarvas.blogs.com/ (March 28, 2007), information about Percy's Plimpton Prize.
Luna Park,http://www.lunaparkreview.com/ (spring, 2008), interview with Benjamin Percy.
PopMatters,http://www.popmatters.com/ (April 24, 2008), G. Christopher Williams, interview with Benjamin Percy.