MacArthur Foundation hands out 24 'genius grants'

"These new MacArthur Fellows bring their exceptional creativity to diverse people, places and social challenges," said Cecilia A. Conrad, a managing director of the foundation.
By Danielle Haynes Follow @DanielleHaynes1 Contact the Author   |  Oct. 11, 2017 at 3:55 PM
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Oct. 11 (UPI) -- A social justice organizer. An immunologist. A painter. Two writers of fiction. These people are among the 24 people chosen to receive the 2017 MacArthur fellowships, grants awarded for "exceptional creativity."

The MacArthur Foundation named the recipients of its annual so-called "genius grants" Wednesday. They each receive a "no strings attached" five-year grant of $625,000 to continue work in their chosen fields. Started in 1981, the MacArthur fellowship is considered among the most prestigious prizes in the United States.

"From transforming conditions for low-wage workers to identifying internet security vulnerabilities, from celebrating the African-American string band tradition to designing resilient urban habitats, these new MacArthur Fellows bring their exceptional creativity to diverse people, places and social challenges. Their work gives us reason for optimism and inspires us all," said Cecilia A. Conrad, a managing director of the foundation and the leader of the fellows program.

The fellows include nine women and 15 men, ranging in age from 33 to 63. They include the following people, as described by the foundation:

-- Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 34, a painter who visualizes the complexities of globalization and transnational identity in works that layer paint, photographic imagery, prints and collage elements.

Photo courtesy the MacArthur Foundation

-- Sunil Amrith, 38, a historian who illustrates the role of centuries of transnational migration in the present-day social and cultural dynamics of South and Southeast Asia.

-- Greg Asbed, 54, a human rights strategist who transforms conditions for low-wage workers with a visionary model of worker-driven social responsibility.

-- Annie Baker, 36, a playwright, who evaluates how we speak, act and relate to one another and the absurdity and tragedy that result from the limitations of language.

-- Regina Barzilay, 46, a computer scientist who develops machine learning methods that enable computers to process and analyze vast amounts of human language data.

-- Dawoud Bey, 63, a photographer and educator who uses an expansive approach to photography that creates new spaces of engagement within cultural institutions, making them more meaningful to and representative of the communities in which they are situated.

-- Emmanuel Candes, 47, a mathematician and statistician who explores the limits of signal recovery and matrix completion from incomplete data sets with implications for high-impact applications in multiple fields.

Photo courtesy the MacArthur Foundation

-- Jason De Léon, 40, an anthropologist who combs ethnographic, forensic and archaeological evidence to bring to light the human consequences of immigration policy at the U.S.-Mexico border.

-- Rhiannon Giddens, 40, a singer, instrumentalist and songwriter who reclaims African-American contributions to folk and country music and brings to light new connections between music from the past and present.

-- Nikole Hannah-Jones, 41, a journalist chronicling the persistence of racial segregation in American society, particularly in education and reshaping national conversations around education reform.

-- Cristina Jiménez Moreta, 33, a social justice organizer changing public perceptions of immigrant youth and playing a critical role in shaping the debate around immigration policy.

-- Taylor Mac, 44, a theater artist who engages audiences as active participants in works that dramatize the power of theater as a space for building community.

-- Rami Nashashibi, 45, a community leader who confronts the challenges of poverty and disinvestment in urban communities through a Muslim-led civic engagement effort that bridges race, class and religion.

Photo courtesy the MacArthur Foundation

-- Viet Thanh Nguyen, 46, a fiction writer and cultural critic who challenges popular depictions of the Vietnam War and explores the myriad ways that war lives on for those it has displaced.

-- Kate Orff, 45, a landscape architect who designs adaptive and resilient urban habitats and encourages residents to be active stewards of the ecological systems underlying our built environment.

-- Trevor Paglen, 43, an artist and geographer who documents the hidden operations of covert government projects and examines the ways that human rights are threatened in an era of mass surveillance.

-- Betsy Levy Paluck, 39, a psychologist who unravels how social networks and norms influence our interactions with one another and identifies interventions that can change destructive behavior.

-- Derek Peterson, 46, a historian who reshapes our understanding of African colonialism and nationalism in studies that foreground East African intellectual production.

-- Damon Rich, 42, designer and urban planner who creates vivid and witty strategies to design and build places that are more democratic and accountable to their residents.

Photo courtesy the MacArthur Foundation

-- Stefan Savage, 48, a computer scientist who identifies and addresses the technological, economic and social vulnerabilities underlying Internet security challenges and cybercrime.

-- Yuval Sharon, 37, an opera director and producer who expands how opera is performed and experienced through immersive, multisensory and mobile productions that are infusing new vitality into the genre.

-- Tyshawn Sorey, 37, a composer and musician who assimilates and transforms ideas from a broad spectrum of musical idioms and defies distinctions between genres, composition and improvisation in a singular expression of contemporary music.

-- Gabriel Victora, 40, an immunologist who investigates acquired or adaptive immunity and the mechanisms by which organisms' antibody-based responses to infection are fine-tuned.

-- Jesmyn Ward, 40, a fiction writer who explores the enduring bonds of community and familial love among poor African Americans of the rural South against a landscape of circumscribed possibilities and lost potential.

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