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Three Women Writers among MacArthur Fellows


Two leading fiction writers and a prominent American poet are among the 24 individuals selected to receive 2009 fellowships from John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, it was announced on Tuesday at the foundation's headquarters in Chicago.
 
Edwidge Danticat, Deborah Eisenberg, and Heather McHugh were the writers selected for the latest round of  the so-called "genius grants" administered by the foundation, which also included mixed media and collage artist Mark Bradford, "urban landscape" painter Rackstraw Downes, filmmaker James Longley, and digital artist Camille Utterback, as well as individuals who have made significant contributions in such fields as biology, economics, engineering, journalism, mathematics, medicine, physics, and climate science.  Each will receive $500,000 "with no strings attached" over the next five years.
 
Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-born fiction writer who came to the United States at age two with her family, was educated at Barnard College and Brown University, and now lives in Miami, was cited for how her "moving and insightful depictions of Haiti’s complex history...provide a nuanced portrait of the intersection between nation and diaspora, home and exile, and reminds us of the power of human resistance, renewal, and endurance against great obstacles."  Her best known books include her debut novel Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994, an Oprah's Book Club choice), The Farming of Bones (1999), the story cycle The Dewbreaker (2004), and the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning memoir Brother, I’m Dying (2007).

Deborah Eisenberg, a New York City based writer of short fiction, was lauded for her "distinctive portrait of contemporary American life. Her exquisitely distilled stories often depict men and women coming to terms with their personal relationships and grappling with the changing social context in which those relationships occur."
 
In her books Transactions in a Foreign Currency (1986), Under the 82nd Airborne (1992), All Around Atlantis (1997), and particularly Twilight of the Superheroes (2006), whose title story is written from the point of-view of a group of young, post-collegiate friends witnessing the terrorist attacks of September 11 and their aftermath from their sublet loft in downtown New York City.  "In this story and throughout the entire collection," the MacArthur Foundation selection statement reads, "she reveals common yet often unnoticed facets of human experience with skill, sensitivity, and precision....[She] continues to produce elegant explorations of the human psyche in tales of increasing complexity, fluency, and moral depth."
 
Heather McHugh, a California native who attended Harvard University (where she studied with Robert Lowell) and graduate school at Denver University, and who, for the past quarter century, has lived in Seattle as the Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Washington, was recognized for her "intricately patterned compositions [that] explore various aspects of the human condition and inspire wonder in the unexpected associations that language can evoke." 
 
Her books of poetry including A World of Difference (1981), Hinge and Sign: Poems, 1968-1993 (1994), and The Father of the Predicaments (2001) were cited for their rich wordplay " puns, rhymes, syntactical twists" that reveal "the complex layers of meaning that individual words or phrases contain." 
 
Noted in particular were Broken English: Poetry and Partiality (1993), her collection of essays on poetry, her translation of Euripides' Cyclops (2001), and her 2003 volume Eyeshot which "combines a range of literary traditions in poems that focus on our struggle to mediate the world and our place in it through the filter of sensory perceptions. She mines words for contradictions and double-meanings, offering the reader an expansive, fresh perspective on such themes as love and mortality."
 
McHugh's new collection Upgraded to Serious will be published on October 1st by Copper Canyon Press.

--R.D. Pohl

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