UNITED STATES NEWS

Meet this year’s MacArthur ‘genius grant’ recipients, including a hula master and the poet laureate

Oct 4, 2023, 9:00 AM

A scientist who studies the airborne transmission of diseases, a master hula dancer and cultural preservationist, and the sitting U.S. poet laureate were among the 20 new recipients of the prestigious fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, known as “genius grants,” announced on Wednesday.

MacArthur fellows receive a grant of $800,000 over five years to spend however they want. Fellows are nominated and endorsed by their peers and communities through an often yearslong process that the foundation oversees. They do not apply and are never officially interviewed for the fellowship before it’s awarded.

Each year, the foundation calls the new class of fellows in advance of the public announcement and fellows described being shocked and stunned by the news after receiving a call from an unknown number, which they had sometimes initially ignored.

Ada Limón, who recently began her second term as the country’s poet laureate, said she first missed a call the day after her grandmother, Allamay Barker, had died at the age of 98. It wasn’t until the foundation emailed her that she called back. She said she wept when she heard the news.

“I felt like losing the matriarch of my family and then receiving this, it felt like it was a gift from her in some ways,” she said, speaking from her home in Lexington, Kentucky.

Limón will be reading poetry to an audience at the University of Montevallo, a public university in Alabama, and speaking to a creative writing class in the hours after this year’s class of MacArthur fellows are announced.

As poet laureate, she commissioned an anthology of poems “ engraved on the spacecraft.

“One of the things that feels most emotional and remarkable to me is that this recognition is coming from within the poetry community,” Limón said.

The foundation has run the fellowship since 1981 and selected more than 1,030 recipients. The awards are given to individuals “of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations,” according to Octavia Butler, Paul Farmer and Twyla Tharp are luminaries in their fields and Marlies Carruth, who directs the MacArthur Fellows program, emphasized that they hope fellows will support and inspire each other. The foundation also hosts events for current and past recipients.

“The prize is financial, but it’s also access and being part of a community of extraordinary thinkers and doers,” said Carruth. Last year, the foundation raised the award amount from $625,000 to $800,000. The foundation previously increased the award amount a decade ago from $500,000 to $625,000.

The 2023 class of fellows includes Andrea Armstrong, professor at Loyola University New Orleans, College of Law, who created a National Book Award winner Imani Perry, who has authored multiple books about the resistance and activism of Black Americans in the face of injustice.

Linsey Marr, an environmental engineer, was in her office when an unknown number called her cellphone, which she did not answer. When the same number called her office line, she picked up with some skepticism, Marr said.

“To think that I’ve actually been selected as one is really mind-blowing,” she said, of the MacArthur fellows.

Before the pandemic, Marr, who is a distinguished professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, studied questions about how viruses moved through the air and how much transmission happens by people breathing in the virus versus from contaminated objects.

Her expertise became extremely relevant after the outbreak of COVID-19 when she argued that airborne transmission was likely a major way the virus was spreading. She said she hopes this recognition of her work will help her gain access to data to better understand the seasonality of the flu.

Ian Bassin, co-founder and executive director of Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan organization, helped to shape legislation passed in December 2022 to overhaul the Electoral Count Act. The changes clarify parts of the 1887 law to make it harder for future presidents to seek to prevent the transfer of power.

When he received the call from MacArthur, Bassin was standing in his kitchen and said his mind immediately went to his late grandparents, with whom he wished he could share the news. He said he sees himself as just one of a multitude of organizations and people working to create a more inclusive and resilient democratic system.

“This fellowship feels both like a tremendous opportunity, but also a responsibility because the work of protecting and perfecting our democracy is far from complete,” Bassin said. “And so this just underscores for me the obligation I think I now have to do my part in finishing that work.”

The other recipients of the MacArthur fellowship in 2023 are: E. Tendayi Achiume, a legal scholar examining global migration; Rina Foygel Barber, a statistician who has developed tools to improve the accuracy of predictions made by machine learning models; Courtney Bryan, a composer and pianist whose work draws on contemporary voices and crosses genres; Jason D. Buenrostro, a cellular and molecular biologist who developed new methods and tools to better understand how and when genes are expressed; multidisciplinary artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons whose work often foregrounds histories of the Caribbean; composer and artist Raven Chacon who blends performance and visual art to interrogate European colonialism of the Americas; Diana Greene Foster, a demographer and reproductive health researcher who has documented the impact of access to contraception or abortion on women’s lives; Lucy Hutyra, an environmental ecologist who studies the movement of carbon through urban environments; artist Carolyn Lazard whose multidisciplinary work centers disability and accessibility; Lester Mackey, a computer scientist and statistician whose has helped improve the predictions of machine learning techniques; fiction writer Manuel Muñoz whose stories explore the experiences of the Mexican American community in California’s Central Valley; Dyani White Hawk, a multidisciplinary artist who uplifts Indigenous art practices and aesthetics and their connections to contemporary art; A. Park Williams, a hydroclimatologist studying the impact of climate change on wildfires, drought and forest growth; and Amber Wutich, an anthropologist who studies the impact of water scarcity on communities and how they adapt.

___

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.

United States News

Associated Press

Rail bridge collapses during Midwest flooding as a heat wave persists across much of the US

Millions of Americans sweated through a scorching weekend as temperatures soared across the U.S., while residents were rescued from floodwaters that forced evacuations across the Midwest. One person died during flooding in South Dakota, the governor said. From the mid-Atlantic to Maine, across the Great Lakes region, and throughout the West to California, public officials […]

8 hours ago

Associated Press

3 Columbia University administrators put on leave over alleged text exchange at antisemitism panel

NEW YORK (AP) — Columbia University said it has placed three administrators on leave while it investigates allegations that they exchanged unprofessional text messages while attending a panel discussion about antisemitism on campus. The university said the administrators work for its undergraduate Columbia College, which hosted the panel discussion “Jewish Life on Campus: Past, Present […]

14 hours ago

Associated Press

Man charged in shooting that critically wounded Philadelphia officer, police say

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A 36-year-old Philadelphia man was charged Sunday with attempted murder in connection with a shooting that critically wounded a police officer after a traffic stop, police said. Ramon Rodriguez Vazquez also faces charges that include aggravated assault and home invasion, police said. The 31-year-old officer and his partner stopped a car carrying […]

16 hours ago

Associated Press

California boy, 4, who disappeared from campground found safe after 22 hours alone in wilderness

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A 4-year-old California boy who wandered away from a campground in the Sierra National Forest was found safe after spending 22 hours alone in the wilderness, authorities said. A search-and-rescue team of about 50 officers and volunteers set out around 11 a.m. Thursday after the child was reported missing from the […]

17 hours ago

Associated Press

One man died and five others were hospitalized in downtown St. Louis shooting

ST. LOUIS (AP) — One man is dead and five others have been wounded in a downtown St. Louis shooting, police said. Police believe women were fighting in a park when men interfered and drew firearms, according to social media posts from the agency. The man who died was in his mid-twenties, police said. Five […]

17 hours ago

Associated Press

Michigan sheriff’s deputy fatally shot pursuing a stolen vehicle in Detroit

DETROIT (AP) — A Michigan county sheriff’s deputy was fatally shot while pursing a suspected stolen vehicle in Detroit, the Oakland County sheriff’s office said Sunday. Bradley J. Reckling, who was on duty in an unmarked car, was following a 2022 Chevy Equinox Saturday evening after the vehicle was reported stolen earlier in the day […]

18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinic visits boost student training & community health

Going to a Midwestern University Clinic can help make you feel good in more ways than one.

...

Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

Meet this year’s MacArthur ‘genius grant’ recipients, including a hula master and the poet laureate