Michael Chabon and Junot Díaz talk about literary writers, genre writers, and elite awards:
“We seem to think that things are changing because the people with privilege dabble across the board,” says Díaz, growing more animated. “I’ve noticed that genre fiction writers are more isolated than they’ve ever been. I think that they’re less likely to win any prizes. Listen, we’ll talk about Justin Cronin all day, and I could trot out 12 other novelists who’ve been writing zombie novels, but because they’re genre writers, they’re not going to get a f–king profile in The New York Times.
“We’re willing to talk about how one side is benefitting, how one side is taking these experiments, but this other side has been doing this for so long, and nobody wants to give them any love,” he continues. “I’m sorry, I don’t give a f–k what the f–k my side of the equation is doing. … It doesn’t stop us from getting MacArthurs. I want somebody who’s writing the Fantastic Four to get a MacArthur, get a Guggenheim.”
Let’s just pause there to agree: Yes! Where is the comic book writer’s MacArthur? Is there one lurking in macfound.org? Maybe some indie artist–a Dan Clowes or someone?
“Octavia Butler,” Chabon says.
“She got one,” Díaz agrees. “I’m telling you, I have friends who are straight-up genre writers, and they have never gotten a Guggenheim, and they’ve applied like 20 times in a row.”
(I didn’t actually know, until this moment, that the Guggenheim was something you applied for. I thought it appeared mysteriously–miraculously–like the MacArthur.)
“Someone like Grant Morrison,” Chabon offers. “His work has been such an inspiration to me, but I feel he’s totally unknown outside of comics.”
“Samuel Delany hasn’t been able to get a Guggenheim,” Díaz says. “Samuel Delany has applied over 20 times.”
“You’re kidding me?” Chabon says. “That’s so f—ed.”
“Think about that,” Díaz says. “Samuel R. Delany — one of the most important living writers.”
“You’ve gotta hope the people are going to die off,” Chabon says. “It’s like the legalization of marijuana. Eventually, the only people alive will be people who grew up smoking marijuana.”
“I hope so,” Díaz replies. “But I see this new generation repeating the fallacy of the old one. … I don’t see people [writing] genre being given the awards that I’m given if I do genre shit. That’s the change I want to see.”
This is one of the reasons I’m glad something like Kickstarter exists. It’s not perfect–far from it–but at least it’s a stab at an alternative form of artistic validation. (Cf. this old post.) We need more of them–more engines of recognition that fuse moral and artistic seriousness with real money. (That’s how people know you mean business!)
Alternatively, we could just figure out how to get Tim Carmody a spot on the MacArthur Foundation’s super secret selection committee…