Jeff Ford reacts to Jonathan Lethem’s geniushood and Matt Cheney’s reaction to it:
He feels that, although Lethem deserves the recognition for his fine work, the Award would do better to have been bestowed on a writer who has not yet “made it” and could better use the money. I congratulate Lethem. He’s written some terrific fiction through the years, and it heartens me to see someone with one foot firmly planted in the literature of the fantastic get due recognition from one of these “literary” groups. I think Matthew misses the point here, though. The 500,000 dollars is kind of a red herring, all be it a large red herring. Shit, who couldn’t use 500 grand, but I thought the whole idea of the award has to do with good writing. No amount of money is going to make you write any better. You could stack a million dollars in a writer’s room, and it’s not going to make a damn bit of difference as to whether she’s going to write a better story or not. Mary Rickert, Andy Duncan, Lucius Shepard, Howard Waldrop(or dozens more writers I could think of), won’t be getting 500,000 dollars, and I’ll bet we’ll see some terrific fiction from them in the coming year. I’ll bet Lethem will write some terrific fiction this year, but it’s not going to have squat to do with the 500 grand. At one point in our lives, Lynn and I lived on 300 dollars a month. We had a walk-up apartment in a shitty neighborhood and I kept a big stick behind the door all the time because I thought the drunk downstairs was going to go crazy and come up those stairs some night and try to kill us. We ate a lot of cheese, and these hot dogs, Pilgrim Franks, that were 79 cents a package — bright red, and the red dye would come off on a paper plate. During that time I wrote a lot of stories – all of them lousy. But the fact that they were lousy had nothing to do with my measly salary. It had to do with the fact that I didn’t know whether my asshole was punched or bored when it came to fiction writing. I make a lot more money now, and I’ve written some stories I’m satisfied with and some readers have said they liked, but I still have a file drawer full of lousy ones I stoke on a continuous basis. For christ sake, let’s let the guy enjoy the money. Hey, Matt, you have to read more of that Thoreau.
I think lots of people forget too, that it’s $500,000 over five years. Nothing to sniff at, for sure, but not Buy a Jet and become a Scientologist kind of money. But yeah, it’s not about the money.
Updated: Jeff expands his thoughts in a new post after Matt clarifies his in the comments to the post linked above.