By Carolyn Kellogg
8:00 AM EDT, September 25, 2013
Writers Donald Antrim and Karen Russell join 22 others as 2013 MacArthur fellows, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced Wednesday. At 32, Russell is one of the two youngest fellows in the 2013 class; at 55, Antrim is one of the two eldest.
Antrim is the author of three novels -- "Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World" (1993), ''The Hundred Brothers" (1997), and "The Verificationist" (2000) -- and a memoir, "The Afterlife" (2006). Sometimes his work is built around a central conceit: "The Hundred Brothers" sets 100 brothers in the same room. And yet his style has evolved in unexpected, naturalist directions. He told the New Yorker that with "The Afterlife," "I got more and more attracted to the idea of stories that flowed, or that seemed to flow, fairly naturally from psychological and relational situations." The son of a strong-willed, self-destructive mother who divorced his English literature professor father, Antrim now teaches writing himself at Columbia. "I think probably that I failed my way toward writing," he tells the MacArthur Foundation in a video posted on its site. "The fellowship -- it's staggering."
Russell, who is also a creative writing teacher, is the author of two short story collections -- "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves" (2006) and "Vampires in the Lemon Grove" (2013), as well as the bestselling novel "Swamplandia!" (2011). Russell names Franz Kafka, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges and Virginia Woolf as influences, writers who bent genre and were interested in playing with form. She often mixes realism with the fantastical, which opens up a creative space. "I always think about the utility of having a really expanded vocabulary to talk about the deep weirdness just of being alive on any regular Tuesday," she tells the MacArthur Foundation. "I think I'm drawn to the surreal fiction because in a way it feels more true to me than the narrow gage of everyday reality."
A native of south Florida, Russell says place informs her writing. "Your external geography ends up getting internalized and shaping you," she says.
Antrim, coincidentally, is also a Florida native.
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