100 living geniuses


Sometimes the best-laid writing plans go awry, thanks to the ear infections and late-night nightmares and preschool crises of assorted small sons. I am very, very close to finishing LORD OF BONES and should do so tomorrow, given some sleep and a coffee shop to hole myself up in. Part of the problem is that the book turned out to be very long — what I expected to be a 325-350 pager is running a hundred pages longer than that. I’ll lose some of that length in one last revision, but seems the things in your book you like the best, the things that sing, are what you ended up carving from those unexpected extra pages. It’s a sense of discovery, a kind of personal discovery, that is also one of the great deep soul foods of writing fiction in the first place.


This is fun — a list of 100 living geniuses, including a lot of names that will raise a lot of eyebrows (I can hear people sputtering into their coffee right now…)

What I found interesting was the list’s working definition of genius, which revolves around

paradigm shifting; popular acclaim; intellectual power; achievement and cultural importance

I just finished Diane Middlebrook’s excellent HER HUSBAND: A MARRIAGE, her examination of the marital and mythmaking partnership of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, and at some point Middlebrook defines genius specifically as someone who rises above the paradigm of her time and changes the fabric of her culture (I’m paraphrasing, but I think that’s close). So in this particular definition, genius is measured not just by talent but by the impact of that talent — you can’t shift a cultural paradigm if no one is reading or listening to you, if no one is aware of you. ‘Genius’ is not confused with success, but success seems to be a prerequisite of genius.

Another quality, then, that would seem necessary to indicate the presence of ‘genius’ would be an unusually high — the word ‘freakish’ comes to mind — drive/ambition/obsession. Show me a ‘genius’ and I’ll show you someone who is not exactly what you’d call well-rounded. One of the reasons they were no doubt picked on in junior high.

So according to all this, I live with a genius. It’s an interesting experience. Not least because he knows some people on that list — people whose dinner talk once involved comparing notes on buying not cell phones or cars or even private jets, all conversations I’ve been repeatedly privy to over the last handful of years, but tropical islands, one woman fanning out a sheaf of glossy oversized ariel-view photographs of the properties under consideration (not taken by them personally, but the equivalent of those photocopied pages you pick up in open houses detailing the lot, the number of bedrooms, etc.). Small world.


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