NU writer wins ‘genius’ grant, writing award

Elise Foley

It has been a good week for Stuart Dybek, Northwestern’s distinguished writer-in-residence.

On Monday, Dybek was announced as a 2007 MacArthur fellow, an honor that comes with a $500,000 “no-strings-attached” grant. Wednesday, Dybek received the Rea Award for the Short Story, a $30,000 lifetime achievement award.

The MacArthur “genius” grant is awarded to 24 individuals annually for accomplishments in creative and intellectual fields by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The Rea Award is given to an American or Canadian writer each year based on peer nominations and contributions to the short story genre.

“I felt lucky, flattered, surprised and certainly, in a way, humbled, too,” Dybek said. “The other people that got MacArthurs just had so many interesting things going on. It was humbling putting myself in the company of them.”

Dybek, who has taught at NU since last year, is the author of two books of poetry and three novels.

His second novel, “The Coast of Chicago,” was chosen for the “One Book, One Chicago” reading program in spring 2004.

“I’ve always been a story teller, I think some people are just wired that way,” he said. “My way of making sense of life is just to weave it into stories. Music in particular seems to generate a set of feelings for me that I try to translate into language.”

Four other NU faculty members previously received MacArthur Fellowships: psychology Prof. Jennifer Richeson, in 2006; Aleksandar HeMonday, an instructor of creative writing in the School of Continuing Studies, in 2004; biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology Prof. Amy Rosenzweig, in 2003; and performance studies Prof. Mary Zimmerman, in 1998.

Dybek was a judge for the Rea award in 1993, so winning had a special meaning for him this year, he said.

“My nomination for that year was Grace Paley, a writer who died earlier this year,” he said. “Each of the three judges could nominate one writer, and she was the one chosen on that year. There was kind of a strange sense of a circle that the year Grace died would be the year I won the award.”

Rea jurors Andre Dubus III, Rick Moody and Roxana Robinson called Dybek’s writing “tender and apologetic” in a citation quoted by an NU press release dated Tuesday.

“Dybek has rescued this world from oblivion,” they wrote. “In doing so he has enriched our souls.”

Dybek said he does not plan to spend the award money quickly. He said he will stay at NU and continue working on writing projects, instead of giving book readings.

“I think I’ll just hole up and finish some things I’ve been working on for quite some time now,” Dybek said. “I’m at a stage of life where I’m trying to get rid of things instead of getting more, so I don’t plan on going out and buying anything. But I think it will buy me more of what I need when I’m trying to write: time.”

Reach Elise Foley at [email protected]