Poet Claudine Rankine, writer Maggie Nelson, artist and writer Lauren Redniss, “long form” journalist Sarah Stillman, graphic novelist and comic book writer Gene Luen Yang, and playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins were named as 2016 MacArthur Fellows (along with 17 other “extraordinary individuals” in such diverse disciplines as linguistics, microbiology, computer science, financial services, sculpture, bioengineering, and more).
Being named a MacArthur Fellow is a Really Big Deal. Not only does it immediately promote name recognition and legitimize a person’s work, art, and/or ideas, but it also comes with a $625,000 no-strings-attached grant, also known as the “MacArthur Genius Grant.”
The MacArthur Fellows Program is intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations. In keeping with this purpose, the Foundation awards fellowships directly to individuals rather than through institutions. Recipients may be writers, scientists, artists, social scientists, humanists, teachers, entrepreneurs, or those in other fields, with or without institutional affiliations. They may use their fellowship to advance their expertise, engage in bold new work, or, if they wish, to change fields or alter the direction of their careers.
Pretty heady stuff, and, as we said before, a Really Big Deal.
Here’s a small clipping about each of the writers who were named as one of this year’s MacArthur Fellows, from the MacArthur Foundation website:
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is a playwright drawing from a range of contemporary and historical theatrical genres to engage frankly with complicated issues around identity, family, class, and race. Many of Jacobs-Jenkins’s plays use a historical lens to satirize and comment on modern culture, particularly the ways in which race and class are negotiated in both private and public settings. Although the provocation of his audience is purposeful, Jacobs-Jenkins’s creation of unsettling, shocking, often confrontational moments is not gratuitous; these elements are of a piece with the world he has established on stage and in the service of the story he is telling.
Maggie Nelson is a writer forging a new mode of nonfiction that transcends the divide between the personal and the intellectual and renders pressing issues of our time into portraits of day-to-day lived experience. Nelson’s five book-length works of nonfiction are grounded in experiences and topics with which she is struggling. She invites the reader into her process of thinking through and making sense of her unique concerns with the help of feminist and queer theory, cultural and art criticism, philosophy and psychology.
Claudia Rankine is a poet illuminating the emotional and psychic tensions that mark the experiences of many living in twenty-first-century America. Over the course of five poetry collections, Rankine has adopted different forms of poetic expression that correspond to the trajectory of her concerns from the private to the public.
Lauren Redniss is an artist and writer seamlessly integrating artwork, written text, and design elements in works of visual nonfiction. Redniss undertakes archival research, interviews and reportage, and field expeditions to inform every aspect of a book’s creation, from its text, to its format and page layout, to the design of the typeface, to the printing and drawing techniques used for the artwork. Her intimate, idiosyncratic perspective illuminates widely varying subjects.
Sarah Stillman is a long-form journalist providing new and compelling perspectives on social injustices in stories of people usually invisible to mainstream reporting. Stillman has written on a wide range of topics both in the United States and abroad, including the use and abuse of civil asset forfeiture, the perils faced by young police informants, and the kidnapping of undocumented children at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Gene Luen Yang is a graphic novelist and cartoonist whose work for young adults demonstrates the potential of comics to broaden our understanding of diverse cultures and people. Yang has produced full-length graphic novels, short stories, and serial comics, many of which explore present-day and historical events through a contemporary Chinese American lens.
Congratulations to these six writers, and indeed, to all 23 individuals named as 2016 MacArthur Fellows!