Deb Olin Unferth

I love the way the best fiction holds two contrary truths beside each other. That feels real to me. That feels like something only art can do: embrace complexity and contradiction.

National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist

Guggenheim Fellow

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Deb Olin Unferth is a dazzling, ingenious writer. Barn 8 is a novel like no other: an urgent moral fantasia, a post-human parable, a tender portrait of animal dignity and genius.
— Dana Spiotta
Like Flannery O’Connor, Deb Olin Unferth does things entirely her own way, and that way is impossible to describe. With Barn 8, it’s as though she dared herself to write about chicken farming as a way to talk about late-stage capitalism, fate, the cosmos—everything—which is to say that this very funny and absurd novel is also as serious as the world.
— Zachary Lazar
Deb Olin Unferth’s stories are so smart, fast, full of heart, and distinctive in voice―each an intense little thought-system going out earnestly in search of strange new truths. What an important and exciting talent.
— George Saunders
One of the most important voices in fiction’s long-awaited collection of short fiction is a fascinating must-read

Deb Olin Unferth’s novels and short story collections are widely celebrated as wickedly comic and cutting edge. She is the author of six books of fiction and nonfiction, including the forthcoming novel Barn 8 (Graywolf, March 2020 ). Her most recent short story collection is Wait Till You See Me Dance (Graywolf, 2017), which the New York Times says “swerves from the mundane to the extraordinary, from biting to soaringly celebratory.” 

Her other books include the graphic novel I, Parrot (Catapult 2017) in collaboration with the illustrator Elizabeth Haidle; the memoir Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War (Holt 2011) a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award, about dropping out of college to join the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua;  the novel Vacation (McSweeney’s 2008), winner of the Cabell First Novel Award; and the story collection Minor Robberies (McSweeney’s 2007). She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and three Pushcart Prizes. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Harper’s, The Paris Review, Granta, Vice, Tin House, NOON, the New York Times, and McSweeney’s.

An advocate of prison reform, Unferth founded and runs the Pen City Writers, a creative-writing certificate program at a maximum security prison in southern Texas. For this work she won the 2017 Texas Governor's Criminal Justice Service Award and the 2017 American Short Fiction Community Star Award.

Discussing the work she does in prisons with Conflict of Interest, Unferth notes, “The incarcerated students I teach don’t have access to the internet. So the books and stories they read blow their minds a little more, maybe, than those of us who are numbed into submission by our screens. The incarcerated students inspire me to lie on the sofa all afternoon reading—to see what the fuss is all about. They remind me what books are for, re-instilling my faith every class like church.”

Unferth grew up in Chicago. She studied philosophy and graduated with a B.A. from the University of Colorado in Boulder. After college she began writing fiction while working at a women’s homeless shelter in Chicago. She received an M.F.A. from Syracuse University. She has taught at Wesleyan University and the University of Kansas. She is now an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin, where she teaches for the Michener Center for Writers and the New Writers Project. She lives with her husband and dog, Henry.



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