MacArthur’s 2022 ‘genius grant’ winners picked to inspire

Oct 12, 2022, 9:10 AM | Updated: 9:57 am
This 2022 photo provided by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation shows J. Drew Lanham, Orn...

This 2022 photo provided by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation shows J. Drew Lanham, Ornithologist, Naturalist, and Writer, 2022 MacArthur Fellow, in Clemson, S.C. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced the winners of their prestigious fellowships known as “genius grants” on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. The fellowship honors 25 discipline-bending and society-changing people whose work offers inspiration and insight and comes with an award that was raised this year $800,000 distributed over five years. (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation via AP)

(John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation via AP)

A specialist in plastic waste management, artists, musicians, computer scientists, and a poet-ornithologist who advocates for Black people in nature are among this year’s 25 winners of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s prestigious fellowships known as “genius grants” that honor discipline-bending and society-changing people whose work offers inspiration and insight.

The Chicago-based foundation announced Wednesday that it increased the “no strings attached” award amount each honoree receives from $625,000 to $800,000 over five years. Fellows do not need to report back to the foundation about how they spend the money.

“I hope that they will continue with their courage and provocation to inspire us to new places of understanding and inspiration,” said Marlies Carruth, director of the MacArthur fellows program.

Jenna Jambeck, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Georgia, received the award for accomplishments like calculating the amount of plastic created since 1950 and identifying that 8 million metric tons of plastic enters oceans each year. She got a call from the foundation after picking up her kids one day in September.

“I was just completely overcome with emotion,” Jambeck said in an interview.

Jambeck, 48, has led surveys of the Ganges and Mississippi rivers to establish baseline data on plastic pollution and document the systems that produce the plastic, treat it as garbage and eventually funnel it into the water. The tension and challenge of managing waste captured her attention when she was in college in Gainesville, Florida, and witnessed a prolonged debate about whether to expand a landfill or transfer waste to another county.

“I just was hooked because, you know, this is something we create every day. We have to manage it,” she said, “Yet everybody wants this material as far away from them as possible.”

The foundation selects fellows through a multi-stage process where anonymous reviewers nominate and vet potential candidates, usually over the course of years, with the intent of recognizing people who are exceptionally creative in their work. The fellows are not involved in their selection and receive a phone call out of the blue, Carruth said.

J. Drew Lanham, a professor of forestry and environmental conservation at Clemson University, said the fellowship gives him intellectual and creative liberation. Lanham, 57, is also a poet, an ornithologist, an activist for Black people in nature, the author of a memoir — in other words, a person who defies labels.

“I’ve even had friends and family and I’m sure colleagues wonder, ‘Well, are you really working? What are you doing? How does that have anything to do with ornithology or how does that have anything to do with your being a college professor?'” he said, speaking from Edisto Island, South Carolina.

Among his writings are a 2013 essay “9 Rules for Black Birdwatchers,” and a memoir that traces the beginning of his love affair with birds and nature to his childhood on his family’s farm in South Carolina, which they lost after his father’s death.

Carruth said this class of fellows is optimistic about civic repair and that the foundation is recognizing their work after the isolation, anxiety and disorientation created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Many of the fellows are doubling down on subjects that we thought we knew, she said, approaching them with new insights and from new perspectives like Emily Wang, a physician who founded a network of clinics that treat people released from jail with community health workers.

Another fellow, Reuben Jonathan Miller, has conducted years of ethnographic research on people’s lives after being incarcerated. His research incorporates his personal experiences as a volunteer chaplain in Cook County jail and the imprisonment of his father and brother.

Other fellows include the author, botanist and advocate for environmental stewardship through the traditional knowledge of native peoples, Robin Wall Kimmerer; the computer scientist, Yejin Choi, who has developed new ways to train computers to understand language; the Chicago-based artist and architect Amanda Williams; and mathematician June Huh whose work bridges different parts of the field to prove longstanding conjectures.

The MacArthur Foundation reported an endowment of $9.4 billion at the end of 2021 and said it paid out $273 million in grants and impact investments that year. Its fellows program represented $15.6 million of those 2021 grants, the foundation said.

___

Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and non-profits receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Jorge Rodriguez, from the Venezuelan government delegation, center, speaks to the media as he arriv...
Associated Press

Venezuela’s gov, opponents resume talks; US eases sanction

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Venezuela’s government and its opposition on Saturday agreed to create a U.N.-managed fund to finance health, food and education programs for the poor, while the Biden administration eased some oil sanctions on the country in an effort to boost the newly restarted talks between the sides. The agreement signed in Mexico […]
13 hours ago
FILE - A Chevron sign is displayed outside one of the company's gas stations in Bradenton, Fla., Fe...
Associated Press

Biden eases Venezuela sanctions as opposition talks resume

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration on Saturday eased some oil sanctions on Venezuela in an effort to support newly restarted negotiations between President Nicolás Maduro’s government and its opposition. The Treasury Department is allowing Chevron to resume “limited” energy production in Venezuela after years of sanctions that have dramatically curtailed oil and gas profits […]
13 hours ago
FILE - This file booking photo provided by the Delaware Department of Justice shows Barry Croft Jr....
Associated Press

Judge denies bid for new trial in Whitmer kidnapping case

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A federal judge has denied a new trial request by two men convicted of conspiring to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Lawyers for Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. alleged misconduct by a juror and unfairness by U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker following their conviction by a federal jury […]
13 hours ago
FILE - This photo provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections shows Kevin Johnson.  A federa...
Associated Press

Judge denies 19-year-old’s ask to attend father’s execution

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A federal judge has denied a request from a 19-year-old woman to allow her to watch her father’s death by injection, upholding a Missouri law that bars anyone under 21 from witnessing an execution. Kevin Johnson is set to be executed Tuesday for killing Kirkwood, Missouri, Police Officer William McEntee in […]
13 hours ago
FILE - This March 6, 2014, file photo shows the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the nation's only unde...
Associated Press

US nuclear waste repository begins filling new disposal area

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Workers at the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository have started using a newly mined disposal area at the underground facility in southern New Mexico. Officials at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant made the announcement this week, saying the first containers of waste to be entombed in the new area came […]
13 hours ago
FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at the Broward County Courthouse i...
Associated Press

New state voter fraud units finding few cases from midterms

WASHINGTON (AP) — State-level law enforcement units created after the 2020 presidential election to investigate voter fraud are looking into scattered complaints more than two weeks after the midterms but have provided no indication of systemic problems. That’s just what election experts had expected and led critics to suggest that the new units were more […]
13 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
MacArthur’s 2022 ‘genius grant’ winners picked to inspire