It was easy to miss amid the headlines about debt ceilings, budgets, Supreme Court partisan hacks, Afghanistan, congressional investigations, and mass shootings. I almost missed it, too: “MacArthur Foundation Announces 2021 ‘Genius’ Grant Winners.”
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s mission since its 1978 founding has been to build a more just, verdant and peaceful world. In pursuit of that goal, it has awarded over 22,000 grants totaling more than $5 billion to creative people and institutions in over 50 countries.
However, the MacArthur Foundation is best known for its annual “Genius” grants. Since the program’s 1981 inception, 1,061 people have been named “MacArthur Fellows.” The number of geniuses each year varies between 20 and 30. The foundation chooses the fellows from recommendations by external nominators selected from across a breadth of fields who draw on their expertise to recommend “creative, innovative leaders who may be on the precipice of a great discovery or a game-changing idea.”
The awards come with prestige — and $625,000 given over five years with no strings attached.
In announcing this year’s grants, Cecilia Conrad, the managing director of the genius program, said, “The goal of the awards is to recognize ‘exceptional creativity,’ as well as future potential, across the arts, sciences, humanities, advocacy and other fields.” She added, “We want to have a share in people who are at a pivotal moment, when the fellowship could accelerate what their future could look like.”
As in past years, this eclectic group of MacArthur geniuses is mostly unknown to the general public.
This year’s 25 fellows include artists, poets, critics, essayists, novelists, and, especially appropriate at present, virologists. Here are the newest geniuses, in alphabetical order, with selected MacArthur rationales for the awards.
Hanif Abdurraqib, 38, music critic, essayist and poet. (“Forging a distinctive style of cultural and artistic criticism through the lens of popular music and autobiography.”)
Daniel Alarcón, 44, writer and radio producer.
Marcella Alsan, 44, physician-economist.
Trevor Bedford, 39, computational virologist. (“Developing tools for real-time tracking of virus evolution and the spread of infectious diseases.”)
Reginald Dwayne Betts, 40, poet and lawyer.
Jordan Casteel, 32, painter.
Don Mee Choi, 59, poet and translator. (“Bearing witness to the effects of military violence and U.S. imperialism on the civilians of the Korean Peninsula.”)
Ibrahim Cissé, 38, cellular biophysicist.
Nicole Fleetwood, 48, art historian and curator.
Cristina Ibarra, 49, documentary filmmaker.
Ibram X. Kendi, 39, American historian and cultural critic. (“Advancing conversations around anti-Black racism and possibilities for repair in a variety of initiatives and platforms.”)
Daniel Lind-Ramos, 68, sculptor and painter.
Monica Muñoz Martinez, 37, public historian.
Desmond Meade, 54, civil rights activist.
Joshua Miele, 52, adaptive technology designer. (“Developing devices to enable blind and visually impaired people to access everyday technologies and digital information.”)
Michelle Monje, 45, neurologist and neuro-oncologist.
Lisa Schulte Moore, 50, landscape ecologist. (“Implementing locally relevant approaches to improve soil and water quality and strengthen the resilience of row crop agriculture.”)
Safiya Safiya Noble, 51, digital media scholar. (“Highlighting the ways digital technologies and internet architectures magnify racism, sexism and harmful stereotypes.”)
J. Taylor Perron, 44, geomorphologist.
Alex Rivera, 48, filmmaker and media artist.
Jesse Shapiro, 41, applied microeconomist. (“Devising new frameworks of analysis to advance understanding of media bias, ideological polarization, and the efficacy of public policy interventions.”)
Jacqueline Stewart, 51, cinema studies scholar and curator.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, 49, historian.
Victor J. Torres, 44, microbiologist.
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, 70, choreographer and dancer. (“Using the power of dance and artistic expression to elevate the voices of Black women and promote civic engagement.”)
Like the MacArthur Fellows, we too can be geniuses by making our communities healthy and vibrant — by getting the COVID vaccine.
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