No, not one of those Genius Awards, the other kind.
Every year Seattle’s alternative weekly newspaper The Stranger runs its own, low-budget version of the MacArthur Fellows Program (a Stranger Genius Award only scores you $5000, but you do get to meet Dan Savage). This year’s winner in the literature category was poet and essayist Heather McHugh. Much to my surprise, my name was on the shortlist.
I almost didn’t find out about it. Wednesday night I got an email invite to the Genius Awards Party, but there was no accompanying explanation of why I would be on the guest list, so I assumed it was a joke or a mistake. Then on Thursday, Lisa’s hairstylist pointed out this effusive write-up by Stranger staffer Paul Constant:
Seattle’s always been very supportive of its literary superstars, which makes the relative lack of excitement about Matt Ruff all the more frustrating. His first novel, Fool on the Hill, has ardent followers who love it as dearly as others love, say, A Confederacy of Dunces or Youth in Revolt, but his second novel, Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy, is the real declaration of talent. Amid its Electric Negroes, giant sewer sharks, and Amish submarine pirates, SG&E also serves as a point-by-point refutation of Atlas Shrugged, and a love letter to Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang.
Ruff’s third novel, Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls, is less intellectually spastic but dramatically more compelling: It’s a Seattle-set love story about two people with multiple personality disorder. It’s a great bit of imagination that manages to feel emotionally honest. And Ruff’s latest book, Bad Monkeys, is a greased-lightning conspiracy thriller starring the mother of all unreliable narrators.
Is it because Ruff’s style changes with every book that Seattle hasn’t given him the adoration he so richly deserves? What’s wrong with you people? Matt Ruff is one of Seattle’s best writers, and it’s about friggin’ time we started to recognize that.
Personally I don’t feel that Seattle has failed to recognize me, but I appreciate the kind words.