Peterson, Paula W.
PETERSON, Paula W.
Married; children: a son. Education: Brandeis University, B.A.; University of Michigan, M.A.
Home—San Francisco, CA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Beacon Press, 25 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108.
First place in New Millennium Writings, for "Prognosis Guarded"; Pushcart Prize nomination, and Bakeless Prize for nonfiction, Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, both 2000, both for Penitent, with Roses: An HIV+ Mother Reflects.
Penitent, with Roses: An HIV+ Mother Reflects, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 2001.
Women in the Grove (stories), Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2004.
Contributor of short fiction to periodicals, including Carolina Quarterly, Alligator Juniper, and Greensboro Review. Contributor to Best American Short Stories.
Short-story writer Paula W. Peterson's first book-length publication, Penitent, with Roses: An HIV+ Mother Reflects, is a memoir detailing her experience of being diagnosed with AIDS. As a married, white, heterosexual woman with an eleven-month-old baby, Peterson did not fit the typical profile of someone with AIDS. In fact, Peterson has been unable to discover how she contracted the disease and may have been HIV-positive long before her diagnosis. Peterson has since become a political activist and volunteer for AIDS programs, and has used her skill as a fiction writer to inform readers about living with AIDS. Following her memoir, she published the short-story collection Women in the Grove, which portrays the experiences of women with AIDS and shows their diversity in race, background, and their myriad responses to the disease.
Penitent, with Roses is composed of two parts. The first section explains how Peterson discovered that she had AIDS after a series of sinus and ear infections, as well as the emotional hurdles that followed the diagnosis. She writes about how her failing spirits were lifted when her husband and child tested negative for HIV. Peterson also relates how she succeeded in making a connection with other AIDS patients, despite feeling like an "anomaly," when she attended a retreat for women with life-threatening illnesses. The second part of the memoir is a lengthy letter to her son, which includes memories of her childhood and stories about important people in her life.
Reviewers admired Penitent, with Roses, praising Peterson's writing and singular approach. Jeffrey Beall recommended Peterson's memoir in Library Journal as one of the best books of its kind "because of her skill as a writer, and because she is never self-pitying." Publishers Weekly reviewers Mark Rotella, Charlotte Abbott, and Sarah F. Gold stated that the book is "beautifully written" and "an exceptionally moving memoir."
The title story of Women in the Grove imagines a mother watching her teenage son from the afterlife, as he visits her grave alone for the first time. In "The Woman in the Long Green Coat," a Russian immigrant, who is also a former prostitute, marks the first anniversary of her diagnosis. "A Miracle" is about a woman in the advanced stages of AIDS, who is cured by God after she promises to give him credit for her recovery.
Peterson was judged to be both an able fiction writer and an insightful observer by reviewers. Booklist critic Whitney Scott noted the "assured, authentic voices that grip one's attention" and called the book "an engrossing collection." In Publishers Weekly, Jeff Zaleski warned that although there is some repetition in characterization, "the combination of sharp dialogue and gritty, realistic backdrops helps bring the conceits to life." Library Journal's Caroline M. Hallsworth commented that Women in the Grove is "rich with emotion" and "too good to be categorized as any one genre of fiction."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Peterson, Paula W., Penitent, with Roses: An HIV+ Mother Reflects, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 2001.
Booklist, February 15, 2004, Whitney Scott, review of Women in the Grove, p. 1037.
Library Journal, July, 2001, Jeffrey Beall, review of Penitent, with Roses, p. 115; February 1, 2004, Caroline M. Hallsworth, review of Women in the Grove, p. 127.
Publishers Weekly June 11, 2001, Mark Rotella, Charlotte Abbott, Sarah F. Gold, review of Penitent, with Roses, p. 70; March 29, 2004, Jeff Zaleski, review of Women in the Grove, p. 38.*