The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is proud of being “one of the nation’s largest independent foundations. Through the support it provides, the Foundation fosters the development of knowledge, nurtures individual creativity, strengthens institutions, helps improve public policy, and provides information to the public, primarily through support for public interest media.”
Perhaps most visibly, every year the Foundation hands out what has come to be known as “MacArthur Genius Grants,” which “celebrate and inspire the creative potential of individuals” through significant, no-strings-attached fellowships. The MacArthur Fellowships acknowledge promising achievements across many disciplines, from artists to teachers to historians to scientists.
This year, three writers were announced as MacArthur Fellows: novelist Ben Lerner, essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates, and poet Ellen Bryant Voigt.
Ben Lerner is 36, and was a poet before becoming a novelist. In 2006, his second collection of poetry, Angle of Yaw (which he wrote while traveling in Spain on a Fulbright Scholarship) was a finalist for a National Book Award, and his first novel, 2011’s Leaving the Atocha Station, won the Believer Book Award, and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award (for first fiction) and the New York Public Library’s Young Lions prize. His second novel, 2014’s 10:04, was hailed as exemplifying the new “metafiction” style, and won the Terry Southern Prize from The Paris Review, as well as being a finalist for the Folio Prize. He currently teaches in the MFA program at Brooklyn College.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, 40, is a journalist as well as an essayist, currently working as a national correspondent for The Atlantic where he writes about cultural, social and political issues, often as they impact African-Americans. His essays for The Atlantic, “Fear of a Black President” (2012)and “The Case for Reparations” (2014), garnered high praise and netted him the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, a National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism, the George Polk Award for Commentary, and a Harriet Beecher Stowe Center Prize for Writing to Advance Social Justice. His father was a former Black Panther and founding publisher of Black Classic Press; his mother was a teacher. His 2008 memoir, The Beautiful Struggle, spoke of his childhood and formative years. His 2015 novel, Between the World and Me, was written as a letter to his teen-aged son about his feelings and the realities associated with being black in America; it was nominated for a National Book Award for Nonfiction.
Ellen Bryant Voigt, 72, has published seven collections of poetry and a collection of craft essays. Her poetry collection Shadow of Heaven (2002) was a finalist for the National Book Award, and Kyrie (1995) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She served as the Poet Laureate of Vermont for four years and in 2003 was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She also has won the Pushcart Prize, and her fellowships include not only a MacArthur Fellowship, but honors from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Academy of American Poets. Additionally, she is an accomplished pianist, which may well contribute to her poetry’s distinctive musical quality. She currently teaches at the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers in Asheville, North Carolina.