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Peter Trachtenberg Receives 2009 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award

For Immediate Release
Contact:  Kelly Gerald
December 8, 2009
Phone: (202) 745-3239

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Peter Trachtenberg received the 2009 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award for The Book of Calamities: Five Questions About Suffering and Its Meaning (Little, Brown and Company, 2008).

The $10,000 award is given annually by the Phi Beta Kappa Society to scholarly studies that contribute significantly to interpretations of the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity. The awards ceremony was held December 4 in Washington, D.C. 

Combining reportage, personal narrative, and moral philosophy, Peter Trachtenberg tells the stories of grass-roots genocide tribunals in Rwanda and tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka, an innocent man on death row, and a family bereaved on 9/11. He examines texts from the Book of Job to the Bodhicharyavatara and the writings of Simone Weil. The Book of Calamities is a provocative and sweeping look at one of the biggest paradoxes of the human condition — and the surprising strength and resilience of those who are forced to confront it.

“I was stunned to have received the Phi Beta Kappa Award,” Trachtenberg said. “It feels very exceptional, an enormous honor, and I’m very grateful,” he added.

Trachtenberg’s essays and short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, TriQuarterly, Bomb, the Jewish Forward and Chicago, and have been broadcast on NPR’s All Things Considered. He received a Whitney Award, the Nelson Algren Award for Short Fiction and the Jerome Lowell DeJur Award for Fiction from the City College of New York. He has taught at Brown University, The New School, Johns Hopkins, NYU, the School of Visual Arts and City College of New York.  In 2008-2009, he was an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He lives in the Hudson Valley of New York. 

Also this year, Christopher Benfey received the Christian Gauss Award for A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, & Martin Johnson Heade (The Penguin Press, 2009), and Harold Varmus received the Phi Beta Kappa Book Award in Science for The Art and Politics of Science (W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2009).

To see more Peter Trachtenberg videos, go to our YouTube channel.


About the Phi Beta Kappa Society

Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest academic honor society. It has chapters at 280 institutions and more than half a million members throughout the country. Its mission is to champion education in the liberal arts and sciences, to recognize academic excellence, and to foster freedom of thought and expression. Among its programs are academic and literary awards, lectureships, a fellowship, a professorship, and publication of The American Scholar, an award-winning quarterly journal.

Love of learning is the guide of life.