Winter 2010: Deborah Eisenberg

In 1997, the New York Times called Deborah Eisenberg’s short stories “spirited and masterly road maps through sad and forbidding and desolate terrain.” Thirteen years later, the same newspaper cast her among the modern age’s greatest writers: “Eisenberg conveys [her characters’] interiority in such a fine grain that one thinks of Virginia Woolf, if only Woolf’s work were leavened with startling humor.” Tremendous praise, indeed, but not the first time the UVA Creative Writing professor has kept such luminous company. Last year, she was named a MacArthur Genius, an award that carries with it not only the legacy of past winners such as theater director Peter Sellars, poet Galway Kinnell, and choreographers Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor, but also $500,000. The committee commended “the hallmarks of Eisenberg’s style—crystalline prose, keen perceptions of emotional nuance, and wry wit.” Though Eisenberg’s stature is diminutive, her personal warmth is as large as her literary profile. Stylish and carrying just the slightest hint of self-deprecation, she professes to love teaching and walking through crowded city streets on warm days. She favors high heels and cuts a strikingly urbane figure wherever she goes. We love her relentless pursuit of art (she has published four collections of stories) and the fact that she’ll admit to eating a whole bag of candy corn in one sitting. “There are two kinds of people in the world…,” she says with a wink, speaking of her guilty pleasure. Sounds like the start to a great story.