Deb Olin Unferth

Deb Olin Unferth

Fellow: Awarded 2018
Field of Study: Fiction

Competition: US & Canada

Deb Olin 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, where she studied with George Saunders, Michael Martone, and Tobias Wolff.

She has published five books: the story collection Wait Till You See Me Dance (Graywolf 2017); 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) about dropping out of college to join the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua; the novel Vacation (McSweeney’s 2008); and the story collection Minor Robberies (McSweeney’s 2007).

Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Harper’s, The Paris Review, Granta, Vice, Tin House, NOON, the New York Times, and McSweeney’s.

She has received four Pushcart Prizes, a Creative Capital grant, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the St. Francis Literary Prize.

She founded and directs the Pen-City Writers, a three-year, creative-writing prison certificate program at the John B. Connally Unit, a maximum security penitentiary in southern Texas. She won the 2017 Texas Governor’s Criminal Justice Volunteer Service Award for her work with the incarcerated (she was one of 21 awardees out of 24,500 volunteers). She also received the 2016 Civic Contribution Award from American Short Fiction magazine for this work.

Her first tenure track job was at the University of Kansas. She then moved to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where she taught for the first time in a maximum security prison. 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.

Her current project is a novel tentatively titled Barn 8.

She lives in Austin with her husband, the philosophy professor Matt Evans, and her dog, Henry.

Profile photograph by Elizabeth Haidle

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