MacArthur Foundation hands out 21 ‘genius grants’

N.K. Jemisin is a speculative fiction writer working in the epic fantasy and science fiction genres. Photo courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Oct. 6 (UPI) — The MacArthur Foundation on Tuesday handed out so-called “genius grants” to 21 artists, scientists, writers and scholars.Each of the awardees receives a “no strings attached,” five-year grant of $625,000 to pursue work in their chosen fields. Started in 1981, the MacArthur fellowship is considered among the most prestigious prizes in the United States.

“In the midst of civil unrest, a global pandemic, natural disasters, and conflagrations, this group of 21 exceptionally creative individuals offers a moment for celebration,” said Cecilia Conrad, managing director of the MacArthur fellows.

“They are asking critical questions, developing innovative technologies and public policies, enriching our understanding of the human condition, and producing works of art that provoke and inspire us.”

This year’s recipients include the following “geniuses,” as described by the foundation:

Isaiah Andrews. Photo courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

— Isaiah Andrews, 34, of Cambridge, Mass., an econometrician developing robust methods of statistical inference to address key challenges in economics and social science.

— Tressie McMillan Cottom, 43, of Chapel Hill, N.C., a sociologist, writer and public scholar shaping discourse on highly topical issues at the confluence of race, gender, education, and digital technology for broad audiences.

— Paul Dauenhauer, 39, of Minneapolis, a chemical engineer developing new technologies for converting renewable, organic materials into chemicals used in products such as plastics, rubber, and detergents.

— Nels Elde, 47, of Salt Lake City, an evolutionary geneticist investigating the molecular mechanisms and evolutionary processes driving host-pathogen interactions.

— Damien Fair, 44, of Minneapolis, a cognitive neuroscientist, devising maps of network connectivity in individual brains that advance our understanding of how distinct regions communicate and develop in both typical and atypical contexts.

— Larissa FastHorse, 49, of Santa Monica, Calif., a playwright creating space for Indigenous artists, stories, and experiences in mainstream theater and countering misrepresentation of Native American perspectives in broader society.

— Catherine Coleman Flowers, 62, of Montgomery, Ala., an environmental health advocate bringing attention to failing water and waste sanitation infrastructure in rural areas and its role in perpetuating health and socioeconomic disparities.

Catherine Coleman Flowers. Photo courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation


— Mary L. Gray, 51, of Cambridge, Mass., an anthropologist and media scholar investigating the ways in which labor, identity, and human rights are transformed by the digital economy.

— N.K. Jemisin, 48, of Brooklyn, N.Y., a speculative fiction writer pushing against the conventions of epic fantasy and science fiction genres while exploring deeply human questions about structural racism, environmental crises, and familial relationships.

— Ralph Lemon, 68, of New York City, an artist generating interdisciplinary modes of artistic expression for stories, emotions, memories, and identities that traditional media do not accommodate.

— Polina V. Lishko, 46, of Berkeley, Calif., a cellular and developmental biologist examining the cellular processes that guide mammalian fertilization and opening new avenues for contraception and treatment of infertility.

— Thomas Wilson Mitchell, 55, of Fort Worth, Texas, a property law scholar reforming laws and developing policy solutions addressing mechanisms by which Black and other disadvantaged American families have been deprived of their land, homes, and real estate wealth.

— Natalia Molina, 49, of Los Angeles, an American historian revealing how narratives of racial difference that were constructed and applied to immigrant groups a century ago continue to shape national policy today.

— Fred Moten, 58, of New York City, a cultural theorist and poet creating new conceptual spaces to accommodate emerging forms of Black aesthetics, cultural production, and social life.

Fred Moten. Photo courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

— Cristina Rivera Garza, 56, of Houston, a fiction writer exploring culturally constructed notions of language, memory, and gender from a transnational perspective.

— Cécile McLorin Salvant, 31, of Brooklyn, N.Y., a singer and composer using manifold powers of interpretation to infuse jazz standards and original compositions with a vibrant, global, Black, feminist sensibility.

— Monika Schleier-Smith, 37, of Stanford, Calif., an experimental physicist advancing our understanding of how many-particle quantum systems behave and connecting phenomena observed in the laboratory to a range of other areas of physics.

— Mohammad R. Seyedsayamdost, 41, of Princeton, N.J., a biological chemist investigating synthesis of novel molecules with therapeutic properties and expediting discovery of new antibiotics.

— Forrest Stuart, 38, of Stanford, Calif., a sociologist challenging long-held assumptions about the forces that shape urban poverty and violence and bringing to light the lived reality of those who experience it.

— Nanfu Wang, 34, of Monclair, N.J., a documentary filmmaker creating intimate character studies that examine the impact of authoritarian governance, corruption, and lack of accountability on the lives of individuals.

— Jacqueline Woodson, 57, of Brooklyn, N.Y., a writer redefining children’s and young adult literature to encompass more complex issues and reflect the lives of Black children, teenagers, and families.


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