Magazine Feature / People

Grandbois takes circuitous route to literary success

Peter Grandbois took a long and winding road—through Boulder, Chicago and Spain, through the fencing and business worlds. Now he’s living his dream.

He graduated this summer from DU with a PhD in creative writing and literature, his first novel is on bookshelves and he started teaching.

The Gravedigger (Chronicle Books, 2006), inspired by an old Spanish folksong Grandbois learned while living in Spain with his wife, tells the story of Juan Rodrigo, a gravedigger in a Spanish mountain village who is haunted by the people he buries and is compelled to pass along their stories. The book was selected by Barnes & Noble for the Discover Great New Writers series and by Borders Books for the Original Voices series.

Grandbois’ circuitous route to literary success started with undergraduate degrees in English and biology and a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Colorado. When he finished there, he set aside his desire to write professionally and joined the U.S. National Fencing Team; he traveled the world with the team for four years.

“When I was growing up, I always loved Errol Flynn movies—the more swordfights, the better,” Grandbois says. “When I was at CU I joined the fencing club, and one thing led to another.”

Following his stint with the team, Grandbois spent time living in San Francisco, Chicago, and then Malaga and Barcelona in Spain. He worked as a high school science teacher and in the business world. He didn’t seriously pursue writing until his daughter was born seven years ago.

“I realized that we all have such limited time in life, we should spend it doing what we love,” Grandbois says.

After completing the creative writing master’s degree program at Bennington College in Vermont, he was accepted into DU’s creative writing program.

“Peter’s writing was always good, but he has grown enormously in the time he’s been at DU,” says creative writing Director Brian Kiteley. “He’s going to have a very successful career as a fiction writer and as a teacher.”

Grandbois says international writers, including Portuguese author José Saramago and Gabriel García Márquez from Columbia, influence his work.

Grandbois has been working on translating Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá’s San Juan Ciudad Sonada from Spanish to English for the University of Wisconsin Press. He finished a draft of his second novel, Nahoonkara (Ute for “Land of the Rising Blue”), a story of greed and violence in the 19th century.

In fall 2006, Grandbois became a professor of creative writing and contemporary literature at California State University in Sacramento.

“It’s remarkable how things have worked out,” he says. “I’m doing what I always wanted to do.”

This article originally appeared in The Source, June 2006.

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