“The MacArthur Comes Like a Kind of Grace”: Talking with Donald Antrim

Brooklyn has been home to at least two dozen MacArthur Fellows since the 1980s: scientists, choreographers, writers, journalists, historians, artists and more. “There’s something very simpatico with MacArthur Fellows and the arts in Brooklyn,” then-MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton told the Daily News in 2007. (Fanton has since been replaced by Robert L. Gallucci—who was born in Brooklyn!) This year’s fellows also included a few locals.

Among those bestowed with the “genius grant,” which comes with a stipend of $625,000, dispensed over five years with no strings attached, is dancer-choreographer-Brooklynite Kyle Abraham and the fiction writer Donald Antrim, whose antic novel The Hundred Brothers became a favorite of ours when Picador recently rereleased it along with Antrim’s other two novels. He also regularly publishes short fiction in The New Yorker and wrote a memoir. We caught up with Antrim quickly by email to ask him about life in the borough and how it feels to receive a MacArthur.

Which neighborhood do you live in?
I live in Park Slope. I moved here 20 years ago, when the neighborhood was more sleepy, and seemed farther away from everything. I like it here quite a lot, more and more.

What are some of your favorite things in Brooklyn?
Al Di La; Prospect Park; Fleischer’s; the greenmarkets; Stone Park Cafe; more and more bikes on the streets; the sound of the kids playing behind the school down the street; the lower skyline.

What’s the best thing about receiving a MacArthur fellowship? Getting to call yourself a genius?
I spent a lot of years barely hanging on, so, for me, the award comes like a kind of Grace—that’s the thing.

Any plans yet for what you’ll use the fellowship money to do?
I haven’t had a chance to think much about concrete plans. I am, however, glad to have the opportunity to do this, and in ways that just a few weeks ago would have been out of the question or even out of awareness.

It’s been a long time since you published a novel. How come?
It’s a long story, as it were. A novel is under way, though.

Do you consider yourself a part of Brooklyn’s literary scene?
I keep hearing about the Brooklyn Literary Scene. Something tells me it is somewhere near…

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