The MacArthur Foundation announces its 2017 fellows

MacArthur Foundation Announces 24 New “Extraordinarily Creative” Geniuses

MacArthur Foundation Announces 24 New “Extraordinarily Creative” Geniuses

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Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 11 2017 1:28 PM

MacArthur Foundation Announces 24 New Fellows, Including Annie Baker, Taylor Mac, and Nikole Hannah-Jones

At 63, photographer and educator Dawoud Bey is the oldest recipient of this year's award.

Still from MacArthur Foundation winners video

A group of 24 “extraordinarily creative” people have become the latest recipients of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, often known as the “genius” grant: a $625,000, no-strings-attached grant awarded to promising individuals to foster their creative potential.

All one must do to be eligible for this award (paid out over five years) is display “exceptional creativity,” “promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishments,” and “potential for the Fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.” Oh, and be nominated by one of the invite-only pool of nominators. The definition of creativity is broad, with this year’s list including talent from a diverse array of fields, including immunology, opera, landscape architecture, history, computer science, social justice, and, of course, the arts.


Playwright Annie Baker was awarded a grant for her ability to explore “the minutiae of how we speak, act, and relate to one another and the absurdity and tragedy that result from the limitations of language.” Her Pulitzer Prize–winning play The Flick reminded Slate's Dan Kois why he loves reading plays, while Tyler Coates wrote that he found John, her three-and-a-half hour play, inspiring, “an examination of the murkiness of human relationships in which one of those relationships is the one between an audience and a playwright.”

Much of the work being recognized this year has a social justice bent. Anthropologist Jason De León was awarded a fellowship for his dedication to the study of the human consequences of U.S. immigration policy in Latin America; the 40-year-old told NPR he intends to use some of the money to pay off his student loans. Greg Asbed, a human rights strategist focused on the conditions of low-wage workers, is developing a model of worker-driven social responsibility, “a bottom-up approach that ensures human rights are respected in the workplace.” The New York Times' Nikole Hannah-Jones covers the ongoing existence of racial segregation in American society, particularly in education and housing, while writer-director-performance artist Taylor Mac bridges the social justice and theater worlds, using the arts as a tool for social change.

At 63, photographer and educator Dawoud Bey, whose portrait work challenges audiences to engage deeply with his subjects’ realities, is this year’s oldest recipient. And on the left-hand side of the brain, mathematician Emmanuel Candès explores “the limits of signal recovery and matrix completion from incomplete data sets with implications for high-impact applications in multiple fields.”

You can see the full list of recipients on the MacArthur Foundation website.