But the thing that most struck me about the book was the way Hazleton wrote about her adopted home of Seattle. Hazleton's Seattle was shabby but beautiful, a hopeful, flawed gem poking out of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth. It doesn't figure hugely in the book, but those few offhand peeks at the city were enough for me to confirm that I wanted to try my luck there. I especially loved the way she described her houseboat on South Lake Union; like Seattle, it was a home that maybe worked better in theory than in reality, but she was committed to making it home.
Thirteen years after reading that book, I was part of a team of Stranger staffers delivering a sheet cake to that very same houseboat. Hazleton informed us we were making a mistake. "It's too soon," she said, suggesting that her best work is still ahead of her. We assured her that while her upcoming books will no doubt be brilliant, her career is plenty genius enough already. Finally, she accepted it: "This is a good day," she said, "Philip Levine was named Poet Laureate, and now this." (Levine, she told us, is a true "working-class" poet, as well as a "mensch.") Hazleton addressed her cat: "You see that? You're living with a frickin' genius." The cat seemed unimpressed. As Hazleton posed for photos and we explained that she'd be a guest at our big Genius party on September 16th, she worried that she'd have to shift out of her "hermit" mode—she's deep in the process of researching and writing a biography of Mohammad—but she was looking forward to the celebration.
Hazelton's career is much more than Driving to Detroit, of course. The majority of her work explores the engine that runs the world: religion.
You can come meet Hazleton at our Genius Awards party on September 16th. If you want to help support the Genius Awards, you can donate right here.