Peter Behrens, novelist, short story writer, essayist, and screenwriter (born in Montreal, PQ 7 Oct 1954). Behrens attended Lower Canada College, and graduated from CONCORDIA University in 1976 with an honours degree in History. He went on to do graduate work at MCGILL University from 1978-1980 as a McConnell Graduate Fellow. His first short stories were published in Best Canadian Short Stories 1978 and Best Canadian Short Stories 1979. He has also published essays and short stories in the Atlantic Monthly, Tin House, Brick, Best Canadian Essays and the NATIONAL POST. The subject matter of his fiction and non-fiction ranges widely, reflecting both his strong background in history and his interest in modern North American culture, especially as it relates to vintage cars. His first novel, The Law of Dreams (2006), published when he was 52 years old, won the GOVERNOR-GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD.
In 1987 Behrens' first book, a collection of short stories entitled Night Driving, was published by Macmillan of Canada. Setting these stories in various places throughout North America, Behrens established the theme of geographical dislocation that would come to characterize his storytelling style. The title reflects his lifelong fascination with AUTOMOBILES, a love he has also explored on his blog, autoliterate. In explaining why he chose to blog about cars and not books, Behrens has said, "Why not apply the aesthetic discourse to the exploration of everyday things, especially elements in our culture as dominant and powerful as trucks, cars, and highways?"
In 1986 Behrens, a dual US/Canadian citizen, moved to Santa Barbara, California, where he worked as a screenwriter and was married to the American filmmaker Anne Makepeace. He is credited as a screenwriter or creative consultant on In God's Country, Kayla, Saltwater Moose, Cadillac Girls, Promise The Moon, and Night Driving. His experience in this field would later influence the literary style of his novels, which are noted for their emotionally stirring visual descriptions. His marriage to Makepeace ended in 2000.
The Law of Dreams is the story of Fergus O'Brien, a young man who survives the Famine and immigrates to Canada (SeeIMMIGRATION; GRIFFINTOWN REMEMBERED). Behrens spent nearly a decade researching material for this book, making several trips to Ireland, where he interviewed authors of IRISH histories and acquainted himself with the landscape. He also drew heavily on his family history for the plot. The character of Fergus is based on Behrens' own grandfather, who arrived in MONTREAL in 1847 on a "coffin ship," the name given to ships full of immigrants who were ill with typhus (SeeEPIDEMIC). Widely praised for its cinematic scope, vivid detail and exquisite prose, The Law of Dreams evokes the horror and devastation of the Famine in a lyrical style that manages to incorporate all the senses, and uses as its palette the vast spectrum of human emotion. In addition to winning the Governor General's Literary Award, it was shortlisted for the ROGERS WRITERS' TRUST FICTION PRIZE, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, the CBA Libris Award for Fiction Book of the Year, and the Amazon.ca First Novel Award.
In his second novel, The O'Briens (2011), Behrens continues his re-imagining of the story of Fergus' descendants in the 20th century. Set in various places across North America, including California, British Columbia, Montreal and Nova Scotia, and featuring various members of the O'Brien family as protagonists, the book also reflects Behrens' broad interest in Canadian HISTORY, exploring the building of Canada's first cross-continental RAILWAY, the early days of flight (SeeAVIATION), and both the FIRST WORLD WAR and the SECOND WORLD WAR. This novel also attracted a great deal of critical praise, and it firmly established Behrens' reputation as an erudite writer whose work ignores political boundaries and immerses its readers in the emotional truth of a place.
Behrens was a Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts from 1984-85 and held a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing at Stanford University from 1985-86. In 2003 he married Basha Burwell.