When Ben Marcus reviewed UVA professor Deborah Eisenberg’s most recent collection of short fiction, 2006’s Twilight of the Superheroes, he characterized the 63-year-old Eisenberg as a sort of archaeologist of American domestic secrets. “Eisenberg has given us these remarkable stories,” wrote Marcus, “machines of perfect revelation deftly constructed by a contemporary master.”
UVA professor Deborah Eisenberg, author of five collections of fiction, nabs the MacArthur “genius” tag and a five-year, $500,000 grant for future work.
Odd choice of language, considering the ranks that Eisenberg joined last week. On Tuesday, September 22, the MacArthur Foundation unveiled its annual list of fellows—24 total, each to receive “genius” grants of $500,000 spread over the next 5 years, each grant described by the foundation as “out of the blue” and “no strings attached.”
The vaguely scientific language of the review makes Eisenberg seem like a precise fit among previous UVA winners—among them, an epidemiologist (Janine Jagger, 2002) and a professor of chemistry (Brooks Pate, 2001). The only previous book-centric faculty “genius” is Terry Belanger, the former director of the Rare Book School, which moved to UVA in 1992.
But Eisenberg’s recognition—add it to the five O. Henry awards, MacArthur!—is a great bit of attention to the strengths of the UVA creative writing program. As it happens, the number of literary MacArthur winners with ties to UVA grows when you look beyond faculty: Heather McHugh, also a 2009 winner, has published poems in the Virginia Quarterly Review. And Edward P. Jones, a UVA creative writing alumnus, nabbed a genius grant in 2004, the same year his novel The Known World won the National Book Critics’ Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
A self-described “slow writer,” Eisenberg told UVA Today that the award “represents time.” Roughly nine years passed between Twilight of the Superheroes and her previous collection; with Eisenberg’s new budget, the next work might, conceivably, arrive a bit sooner. But why rush a genius?
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