VERY Short Bio
M. Allen Cunningham, author of: 4 novels, 1 short story collection, 1 book of essays on the creative life, 1 book of cultural criticism. Editor of: 1 volume of Henry David Thoreau's most humorous writing. Many publications in journals, newspapers, and magazines. Contributing editor for the northwest literary journal Moss. Recipient of fellowships, grants & residencies. Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Portland State University, where he teaches creative writing.
M. Allen Cunningham is the author of seven books, including the American Booksellers Association #1 Indie Next novel The Green Age of Asher Witherow (Unbridled Books, 2004); an experimental biographical novel about Rainer Maria Rilke entitled Lost Son (Unbridled Books, 2007); and Partisans (Atelier26, 2015), a samizdat novel about unbridled surveillance, constant war, and maddening technological upheaval, which was a Finalist for the Flann O'Brien Award for Innovative Fiction. Cunningham's new novel Perpetua's Kin appeared in the fall of 2018 and was named among the Most Anticipated Titles of the season in New York Magazine. Cunningham has also published two volumes of nonfiction, has written regularly for The Oregonian, and recently edited and wrote the introduction for Funny-Ass Thoreau, a collection of humorous writing from the author of Walden. Cunningham's work has appeared in many distinguished national and regional literary publications such as The Kenyon Review, Glimmer Train, Tin House, Alaska Quarterly Review, Oregon Humanities Magazine, and Poets & Writers. The recipient of residencies at the Yaddo Colony and multiple fellowships and grants, including a 2018 Project Grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council, Cunningham founded the award-winning literary publishing house Atelier26 and is a contributing editor for Moss literary journal. He holds an MFA from Cedar Crest College's Pan-European Master of Fine Arts Program, and is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Portland State University, where he teaches creative writing. Over the past 15 years, Cunningham has taught many workshops and seminars, and lectured widely in public and university settings including Portland State University, Oregon State University, California State University East Bay, and countless public libraries. He also facilitates the Atelier26 Creative Writing Workshops, designs and teaches courses for Portland's Literary Arts, and serves as lecturer and thesis advisor in the Pan-European MFA Program.
Books: Cunningham published his debut novel, The Green Age of Asher Witherow (Unbridled Books), at age 26. Set in nineteenth-century Northern California, The Green Age served as the inaugural title for independent publisher Unbridled Books, was widely acclaimed, was selected by the American Booksellers Association as a #1 Indie Next Pick, was a Finalist for the Indie Next Book of the Year Award in a shortlist with Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, and Joyce Carol Oates' The Falls, was named a “Best Book of the West” in the Salt Lake Tribune, and was dubbed a "Regional Classic" by the Mountain & Plains Booksellers Association. Foreword Reviews praised The Green Age as "a feat reminiscent of William Styron's Lie Down in Darkness," and later called Cunningham "one of America's most promising voices." Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler called the novel "a startling accomplishment," and Booklist said it "displays a mastery that is surprising in a novelistic debut." The Green Age was published in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland by Atrium Verlag. Audible released an audio edition in 2014.
Three years after his debut, Cunningham released Lost Son (Unbridled Books), an experimental biographical novel about Rainer Maria Rilke which was the culmination of more than 10 years of reading, writing, research, and travel. Ihab Hassan, one of the 20th century's most distinguished critics, said "the magic of Rilke reach[es] out from every page," and called Lost Son "a subtle and signal imaginative achievement, putting readers on notice: an extraordinary talent has come upon the scene." Lost Son, for which Cunningham translated numerous extracts from Rilke's works, correspondence, and journals, was added to the official Rilke bibliography by a consortium of European scholars. Cunningham was interviewed at length alongside Russell Banks, Michael Cunningham, Anita Diamant, Ron Hansen, Joyce Carol Oates, and Jay Parini for the book Truthful Fictions: Conversations with American Biographical Novelists (Bloomsbury, 2014, ed. Michael Lackey). Lost Son receives in-depth consideration in scholar Zivile Gimbutas' study of 20th-century artist novels entitled Artistic Individuality, where it is featured beside the work of authors Willa Cather, James Joyce, John Updike, and Virginia Woolf. Lost Son was listed as a Top 10 Book of 2007 in The Oregonian, and reviewer Vernon Peterson said "Cunningham's writing is beautiful and fluid. I found myself torn, lingering over passages and yet eager to rush on...But I'm not sure it's right to see Lost Son simply as a fictional biography of Rilke. It is also Cunningham's spiritual autobiography, his own fierce identification with the poet's commitment to art...mesmerizing."
Cunningham has subsequently published five other books, most recently Funny-Ass Thoreau, featured on Lit Hub, Arts & Letters Daily, the Paris Review Daily, and elsewhere, and the Flann O'Brien Award Finalist Partisans, which received the praise of the legendary John Berger, who called it a book "in which we join forces," and which New Pages called "Part fable, and an all-out plea for the love of good stories and the talent to tell them." Cunningham's The Honorable Obscurity Handbook, an existential guide to the creative life, was lauded by Cynthia Ozick as "Ingenious ... important, wholly absorbing, inspiring and inspiriting." Cunningham's short story collection Date of Disappearance appeared in illustrated limited edition and was lauded as "deeply seductive" by The Oregonian. His book The Flickering Page (2014), an illustrated treatise about the implications of e-reading, weaves together some of the most cogent thought about technology and "technological revolutions" from the past fifty years.
Further Publications, Fellowships, etc.: Cunningham's short stories and nonfiction have appeared in many publications including Alaska Quarterly Review, Boulevard, Catamaran Literary Reader, Epoch, Glimmer Train, The Kenyon Review, Oregon Humanities Magazine, Poets & Writers, and Tin House. His writing is frequently included in university curricula and his stories have been featured in live performance by the New Short Fiction Series of Southern California. Cunningham is the subject of a short documentary by filmmaker Scott Ballard, and the recipient of grants and fellowships from Literary Arts, the Oregon Arts Commission (2007; 2013), the Oregon Community Foundation (for Atelier26 Books), and the Regional Arts & Culture Council, as well as residencies at the Yaddo Colony (2010; 2014). Since 2010 he has contributed regularly to the Books section of The Oregonian. He was cited in the Dzanc Books list of 20 Writers to Watch.
Independent Publisher: As the founder and publisher of the nationally recognized, award-winning publishing house Atelier26 Books, Cunningham has edited and published new works by Indie Next authors Harriet Scott Chessman and Elizabeth Rosner. He solicited, edited, and published Margaret Malone's widely acclaimed debut story collection People Like You, which went on to become a Finalist for the 2016 PEN/Hemingway Award (the sole small press title honored that year), won the Balcones Fiction Prize, and was listed as a Best Book of the Year by The Oregonian, The Portland Mercury, Powell's Books, and The Quivering Pen. Recent titles from Atelier26 include Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award winner Woody Skinner's debut short story collection A Thousand Distant Radios (one of 10 titles longlisted for the 2018 PEN/Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction), and distinguished American poet Sidney Wade's Bird Book.
Atelier26, the recipient of a 2017 Small Arts & Culture Grant from the Oregon Community Foundation and a 2019 Oregon Literary Fellowship from Literary Arts, exists to demonstrate the powers and possibilities of literature through beautifully designed and expressive books that get people listening, talking, and exchanging ideas. Atelier26 titles are distributed to bookstores everywhere by Independent Publishers Group, North America's second largest independent distributor.
Public Speaking: Cunningham is a frequent public speaker on books and literary culture. For four years he served as a scholar and facilitator for the Oregon Humanities Council Conversation Project, leading public discussions in more than 25 Oregon communities on the subject of the cultural impact of e-reading, an experience that resulted in his book The Flickering Page, specially illustrated by artist Nathan Shields. Cunningham continues to give presentations on this subject, in addition to speaking frequently about writing and publishing in conference and workshop settings. He welcomes inquiries.
Further Freelance Writing, Editing, Consulting: Cunningham co-authored The Prosperous Peasant with entrepreneur and writer Tim Clark. A series of parables set in 16th-century Japan and featuring Toyotomi Hideyoshi as a main character, The Prosperous Peasant also includes an all-new abridgment of Bushido, Nitobe's classic on the eight virtues of the Samurai. Clark and Cunningham went on to co-found the popular blog SoulShelter.com. For more than two years Soul Shelter featured their twice-weekly essays on entrepreneurship, creativity versus commerce, the challenges of integrating inspiration and employment, and protecting the soul against the deadening effects of techno-culture.
For more than a decade Cunningham has provided freelance writing, editing, and literary consulting services to a broad range of clients across the country, from aspiring writers to cult film directors and rocket scientists (are you looking for an editor?).
Teaching: Cunningham has taught in various capacities for 15 years and is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Portland State University, where he teaches creative writing. He has lectured widely in public and university settings, including Portland State University, Oregon State University, California State University East Bay, and dozens upon dozens of public libraries. He also facilitates the Atelier26 Creative Writing Workshops, designs and teaches new courses and workshops at Portland's honored nonprofit Literary Arts, and serves as lecturer and thesis advisor in the Pan-European MFA Program.
Cunningham lives in Portland, Oregon.
Cunningham interviewed in Propeller Quarterly
Cunningham interviewed at 3Guys 1Book
Cunningham interviewed at Late Night Library (audio)
Cunningham reads at Why There Are Words (video)