Peter Trachtenberg

Memoirist, Essayist & Story Writer

“Trachtenberg…rais[es] complex questions about justice, malice, compassion, blame, self-pity, personal responsibility, faith, and doubt….” 
—O: The Oprah Magazine

“The artistry and humor of his writing, the pain of his mercilessly self-punishing insights, the relentlessness of his guilty misanthropy…all give Trachtenberg a solid claim to being a genuine American Dostoevsky.” —The Washington Post

“Trachtenberg is a splendid writer: brutally direct, whimsically funny, always enlightening. Read him.” —Mademoiselle

Peter Trachtenberg is the author of The Book of Calamities: Five Questions About Suffering and Its Meaning (Little, Brown 2008), a book that combines reportage, memoir, and moral philosophy to explore suffering and its narratives, which won the 2009 Phi Beta Kappa Ralph Waldo Emerson Award for works that contribute significantly to interpretations of the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity. In 1997, his debut book, Seven Tattoos: A Memoir in the Flesh (Crown) was published. Of this book, the Montreal Gazette wrote, “Seven Tattoos is like a Lou Reed record: off-key and on the mark at the same time….A reminder that the memoir, when it’s revealing and reflective, can go where the best literature has always sought to go—straight to the human heart.”

Trachtenberg’s fiction, essays, and reportage have appeared in The New Yorker, Harpers, Bomb, A Public Space, Bidoun, O: The Oprah Magazine, and The New York Times Travel Magazine. He has performed his monologues at Dixon Place, PS 122, and The Kitchen and broadcast commentaries on NPR’s All Things Considered. He is the recipient of a Whiting Award, the Nelson Algren Prize for Short Fiction, an Artist's Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and a 2010-2011 Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. In 2008-2009 he was a visiting professor of creative nonfiction at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. 


“This is a rare and invaluable kind of writing, almost scriptural in its scope and its openness to pain. I say 'almost,' because The Book of Calamities is both less and more than the scripture from which it borrows much of its form. Trachtenberg offers no answers and doesn’t even seem certain there are any. And yet that seems like a blessing, a recognition that there is a limit to witnessing—which means that there may be a limit to suffering, too.”  —Search Magazine

Publisher's Weekly Starred Review. "This book is a layman's response to unimaginable anguish, a collection of powerful stories rather than a philosophical treatise. Writing movingly about victims and survivors of natural disasters, war, genocide, domestic violence, addiction, illness, suicide and injustice, he deftly intermingles their stories with observations from religion, philosophy and literature. Not everyone will want to face this much misery, and Trachtenberg offers no easy solutions. His book, however, like Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, succeeds because it asks the right questions, calls on the experience of articulate witnesses and—through skillful narrative and trenchant observation—beguiles the reader into facing heartbreaking reality.”


About SEVEN TATTOOS (1997)

“Written with wit, humility, passion, and a razor-sharp perspicacity....You feel he must be writing for his life.” –Madison Smartt Bell, Spin

In a highly original and absorbing memoir, the short-fiction author Tractenberg struggles to explain the ways of God to man—or maybe just to himself. Each tattoo, like Catholicism's seven sacraments, leaves an indelible mark on Tractenberg, which he uses to trace his life from early rebelliousness in the 1960s, through drug addiction on New York's Lower East Side, to an attempt at atonement with parents, lovers, and himself. Tractenberg views God as a Mafia capo di tutti capi, a supreme being with a "trigger itchy as Dirty Harry's." Yet, for all its irreverence, his memoir records a serious spiritual quest—a search for answers to questions at the heart of the world's major religions: the nature of God, the cause of suffering, and the meaning of life itself. —Library Journal


Peter Trachtenberg website

Hachette Author Page

Curated Video by Peter Trachtenberg