Hurricanes, Coral Fires, and the Florida Coast Inspired "Genius Grant" Winner Kelly Link

Used with permission from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Kelly Link is one of this year's "25 extraordinarily creative people" to win the 2018 MacArthur Grant Fellowship. She's joined by composers, mathematicians, and human-rights lawyers.
It takes a true Floridian to understand that hurricane season is both terrifying and exciting. It's all in the details: rushing to stock up on water and canned goods, digging out those tried-and-true shutters once again. Even the most angst-ridden hurricane veterans can fondly recollect a time when the fearful disruption of the day-to-day was welcomed.

As a child, Kelly Link would excitedly await South Florida's hurricane season. The sense of trepidation an oncoming storm would bring is what the 2018 MacArthur "Genius Grant" fellow used for later writing inspiration. "That sense you have when you're a kid, living in Florida — that feeling during the hurricane season, something big might be on the horizon." Now an author, she says, "It's great preparation for imaging worst-case scenarios and then imaging the extraordinary coming into a landscape and changing everything." 

A resident of Northhampton, Massachusetts, Link was born and raised in Miami. Honored as one of this year's MacArthur Grant fellows, the short-story writer has been awarded a $625,000 no-strings-attached prize. Link reports her current mood is set to awe: "It's a feeling of excitement." The fellowship's website points out that the $625,000 goes to "extraordinarily creative and talented individuals." Criteria for selection includes demonstrating exceptional creativity, a promise for future advancement, and the potential for subsequent creative work.

A writer and editor, Link ticks all of those boxes. For the past 18 years, she and her husband have been running Small Beer Press, an indie publishing company. Link confirms that some of the grant money will go toward the business. "My husband and I do all of the work ourselves," she explains. Thanks to the MacArthur Grant, they're talking about finally expanding the team. The funding will also offer some financial relief. "Paying bills," she laughs a bit when describing how the grant will be her source of income while working on her next project.
click to enlarge Awards are run-of-the-mill for Link. She's won three Nebulas, a Hugo, a World Fantasy Fiction prize, and, her latest, a MacArthur "Genius Grant." - JOHN D. AND CATHERINE T. MACARTHUR FOUNDATION- USED WITH PERMISSION.
Awards are run-of-the-mill for Link. She's won three Nebulas, a Hugo, a World Fantasy Fiction prize, and, her latest, a MacArthur "Genius Grant."
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation- used with permission.
A short-story aficionado, Link has yet to dabble in writing novels — until now. The book she's begun writing will be based on a "blend" of South Florida's coastline with the charm of the Massachusetts lifestyle. "I'm imagining a town on the coast," she says, "and I'll be drawing on that experience of being on the water."

It'd be wise to also expect her usual surrealist fantasy theme. Zombies, vampires, and other fantastical beings run amok in Link’s short stories. The writer calls this creative focus on imaginative creatures “The Weird.” She credits the birth of her fascination with “The Weird” to one point in time, much like the hurricanes of her past. "When I was a kid, something I remember very strongly was this fire that went down under the coral, deep underneath the ground in our neighborhood."

Link remembers how the ground smoked for weeks, and she saw multitudes of snakes and lizards emerging for refuge. "Just the idea of seeing the smoke for days on end, thinking how down underneath there's this fire going on and not being able to see it." For a writer, she says Miami is brilliant for someone who works in themes of fantasy. "I tend to put a lot of fantastic elements in my fiction."

Drawing on that sense of wonder, Link thinks back on what it felt like to grow up near the Everglades. "Miami is a fantastical landscape," she reminisces, "especially for a kid."