Ben Lerner, 36, began his writing career as a poet, but his two debut novels, one published in 2011 and the other last year, quickly gained critical acclaim and have both been called “brilliant” and “revolutionary,” among other praise.
This year Lerner received a MacArthur “genius” fellowship of $625,000 for his work.
Though he has turned to fiction in recent years, his novels mirror aspects of his own experiences and integrate his background in poetry.
“Poets really haven’t gotten the news that the novel is also dead,” said Lerner in an interview with The Guardian after his second book, “10:04,” came out. “It’s like some weird homeopathic myth, that you avoid the novel but you are allowed to write one.”
When his first novel, “Leaving the Atocha Station,” came out, he told the Poetry Society of America that the main character finds prose beautiful when it has “poetic possibility.”
“A poem in a novel, or the idea of poetry in a novel, can similarly glimmer, I think,” he said.
Lerner was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, and won his first award — from the National Forensic League’s speech and debate tournament — the year he graduated high school. Since then, he has secured far more prestigious recognitions, such as a Fulbright scholarship and Guggenheim fellowship before the MacArthur.
“Of course one feels grateful and unworthy and weirded out all at once,” he wrote to the Forward in an email.