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MacArthur grants announced
September 22, 2009 6:10 AM   Subscribe

$500,000. Five years. No strings attached. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced the 24 recipients of its 2009 "genius grants."
posted by oinopaponton (64 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I actually had no idea that people outside the arts received these.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:29 AM on September 22, 2009


Jerry Mitchell is about the only good thing coming out of our local newspaper, here in Mississippi.

Here's a local take on Mitchell and the award.
posted by fijiwriter at 6:29 AM on September 22, 2009


Mitchell sounds like a really impressive guy... as do all of these people. The only one I'm familiar with so far is Edwidge Danticat, so I guess me and Wikipedia are going to spend some quality time together today.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:39 AM on September 22, 2009


It's mostly people outside the arts, but those are precisely the people least likely to be known to anyone outside their professional communities.

Beth Shapiro's work looks really interesting.
posted by OmieWise at 6:39 AM on September 22, 2009


I actually had no idea people in the arts received these.
posted by majick at 6:42 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


God, my life is so futile.
posted by chrismear at 6:48 AM on September 22, 2009 [23 favorites]


Every time they announce these there's always some semi-obscure art form represented, and I'm always HEY I HAVE DEVOTED MY LIFE TO KNITTING, DAMN IT, GIVE ME MONIES. And they never listen.

I'm with chrismear. My life is so futile.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:53 AM on September 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm excited to see Dan Sigman listed as a biogeochemist. For a few days, a few more Americans will know what a biogeochemist is.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:57 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ah great!!

Recipient Esther Duflo did a fascinating study of the consumption patterns of poor people -- "The Economic Lives of the Poor [ .pdf ]

If you're curious how folks manage on less than $2 a day, its a good read and very accessible.

Warning: unusual for economic papers, you will feel very blessed after getting through even a small part of this document.

One quote that leapt out at me when I read her paper and has stuck with me ever since:
"The poor generally do not complain about their health―but then they also do not complain about life in general either."
I spent a lot of time working in Africa, sometimes out in the middle of nowhere and the experience changed my perspective, seeing how those folks cope. Happily cope. Absolutely amazing.

Folks we sometimes don't know how good we've got it ....
posted by Mutant at 6:57 AM on September 22, 2009 [11 favorites]


I've almost come to peace with getting passed over, yet again.

*mutters into coffee*
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:06 AM on September 22, 2009


Insert hacky Kanye joke here.
posted by Optamystic at 7:22 AM on September 22, 2009


Odd. I've run into three other people named Rackstraw in the last week.
posted by docpops at 7:26 AM on September 22, 2009


I spent a lot of time working in Africa, sometimes out in the middle of nowhere and the experience changed my perspective, seeing how those folks cope. Happily cope. Absolutely amazing.


Oh shit - I thought your comment was wonderfully tasteless satire for a moment there, Mutant!

(Bad case of poisonous grant envy).
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:26 AM on September 22, 2009


Here's to hoping they spend their time producing work worthy of the description Genius.

And I mean that in all seriousness; I'm not familiar with most of them, but I do sincerely hope that the relative independence offered will spur them on in new and exciting directions.
posted by flippant at 7:27 AM on September 22, 2009


I won one of these once, but I refused it as a sign of solidarity with the noble Bedouins....

...is the speech I practice in front of the bathroom mirror every year like clockwork, crying inconsolably.
posted by logicpunk at 7:27 AM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Excellent - Tim Barret, one of my main instructors at the U of Iowa Center for the Book, got one! He's an old friend, and taught me a hell of a lot about paper in the time I was in the program there.

Wow - I've never known a MacArthur fellow before. Cool.
posted by Shadan7 at 7:31 AM on September 22, 2009


I would love one of these lists where you scroll down to the bottom and see Carrot Top's grinning rictus smiling back at you.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:33 AM on September 22, 2009 [6 favorites]


I've managed to stay married for almost seven years. Doesn't that count for something?

*ahem*
posted by elder18 at 7:36 AM on September 22, 2009


I'm using mine to TAKE BACK THE PHILLIPINES!

What?
posted by leotrotsky at 7:40 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love this foundation. If you're ever in Chicago, stop by their building at 140 S. Dearborn St. (Marquette Building). The mosaic work in the lobby is amazing (grab the pamphlet!).
posted by mzanatta at 7:43 AM on September 22, 2009


It's an honor just to be nominated.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:46 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would love one of these lists where you scroll down to the bottom and see Carrot Top's grinning rictus smiling back at you.

That would indeed be cool, as in cool = my worst imaginable nightmare.
posted by blucevalo at 7:46 AM on September 22, 2009


It's an honor just to be nominated.

I tried to nominate somebody once, and got back a form letter saying that they don't accept nominations. According to the FAQ on the MacArthur site, they have a rotating pool of nominators from various fields, who keep an eye out for them, and operate under the radar. Then the nominations are vetted by an equally secretive selection committee. If you were under consideration but didn't get a grant, you would never know, unless somebody leaked the nomination.
posted by beagle at 7:59 AM on September 22, 2009


If you were under consideration but didn't get a grant, you would never know, unless somebody leaked the nomination.

Well, THAT'S what it was, then.
posted by 235w103 at 8:02 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, Mark Bradford's work is just totally fucking cool. Yay, new artist for me to investigate!
posted by marginaliana at 8:05 AM on September 22, 2009


In case you wanted a taste of this yourself, here are some tips from an article in Slate from 2000. However, Tip #4 ("Do not, under any circumstances, work for the government or the private sector.") may be partially out of date. It seems that since at least 2005 there has been at least one grant per year given to someone from the private sector (government still seems under-represented). This year, it looks like Theodore Zoli fills the role.
posted by mhum at 8:18 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm two missions away from finishing GTA 4.
posted by bardic at 8:35 AM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Have they ever awarded a grant to someone who has a decent selection of snarky comments on message boards? I mean, I think I'm overdue here.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:41 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I grow up I wanna be a genius with half a million bucks. Oops, wait, I'm 45. Okay, I'm with the 'life is futile' people. I was going to start a third political party, the Party of Apathy, but then I thought, why bother?
posted by jamstigator at 8:48 AM on September 22, 2009


I like what that guy in Synecdoche, New York did with his. I'd like to see more of that.
posted by rocket88 at 8:51 AM on September 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Let's not forget Caden Cotard.
posted by davebush at 8:51 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, man. I remember when the people who received these seemed impossibly old and accomplished. Now fully a third of them are younger than I am.

They still seem impossibly accomplished. :(
posted by dersins at 8:52 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I lose.
posted by davebush at 8:52 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


In related news, you also weren't picked for dodgeball, today.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:55 AM on September 22, 2009 [6 favorites]


Dude I got like six of these last year, MacArthurs ain't shit.
posted by The Straightener at 9:05 AM on September 22, 2009


Maybe they can pay back some of those student loans now.
posted by peppito at 9:34 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was surprised that everyone on that list was 32+. I guess it takes a while to establish one's genius and grantworthiness, but at the same time, if you're a 69 year-old painter I'd figure you've already pretty well managed to get by pretty well on your own up to that point...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 9:47 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine won one of these. He says the best part is being able to tell poeple that he is, in fact, officially a genius.
posted by stargell at 9:56 AM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure whether I'd like more to receive the MacArthur grant, or to be able to distribute similar grants.
posted by cmoj at 10:08 AM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


I built Rackstraw Downs' racks (where he keeps canvases and paintings)- a friend of mine (R.I.P.) was his assistant and got me the gig. He was a totally decent and nice guy who made kick-ass paintings. Couldn't have happened to a nicer person. Big opera buff, too.
posted by From Bklyn at 10:52 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


These kids (if this is how you like to beat yourself up) all got picked for the team.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:00 AM on September 22, 2009


My first reaction every year is the same as many of you - "Dammit. Why can't I get one of those?" - but as soon as I look at the list of recipients I get really buoyed and excited. "A papermaker! An ornithologist!" It makes me feel like if I just stopped being lazy and scared and could figure out what I really wanted to do with my life, I just possibly could get one of these things. If I were a genius, that is...
posted by queensissy at 11:04 AM on September 22, 2009


"I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it."

This a wicked impressive cast of characters.
posted by Theta States at 11:04 AM on September 22, 2009


My dad used to have this amazing student named John Bonifaz. His name constantly came up in any conversation about me, motivation, life goals, doing amazing things, fighting for justice, blah blah blah. This had all been going on since I was, like, 7; he hadn't talked to John Bonifaz since John had been in high school several years earlier. It was all, "Well, when John Bonifaz wanted to do something, he went out and did it!" or "I remember one day when John Bonifaz had this fantastic idea, and look what happened!"

Let me tell you, the only thing more daunting than having parents who say "You're going to be a DOCTOR!" is having parents who are completely convinced that you will one day change the whole world in some unspecified yet remarkably creative and astounding way. And they meant it, too. Meanwhile, I kind of just wanted to stay home and read books and not get jerked around. So hearing about "ooh, John Bonifaz did this and that" over and over again really torqued my chain.

Finally I told my dad that while I was sure John Bonifaz (whom I've never met) was very nice, I never wanted to hear anything about him again. I grew up, pulled my head out of my ass, and now things are pretty cool.

Then I found out that he got a MacArthur grant. GodDAMMIT!
posted by Madamina at 11:04 AM on September 22, 2009 [16 favorites]


A friend of mine won one of these. He says the best part is being able to tell poeple that he is, in fact, officially a genius.

What a sucker, I just joined MENSA instead and got this sweet membership card and everything. Who's the genius now?
posted by Copronymus at 11:07 AM on September 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


I bet a lot of people here know another MacArthur "Genius": Richard Stallman (rms), father of Gnu and free software.
posted by phliar at 11:24 AM on September 22, 2009


My day was totally made when I heard that Pete Huybers got one. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, really. We're in quite different fields, but we went to grad school together and were part of a crunchy hippie dinner co-op.

I remember hearing one of his talks and thinking, "hmm... that's pretty cool stuff. What a nice, elegant and simple result... I love unpretentious, simple but solid science ..." and then having the fella sitting next to me whisper in my ear "you know, this has been one of the largest unsettled questions in the field for the last fifty years" (or something to that effect). I was floored....
posted by bumpkin at 11:26 AM on September 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh, and I have a Stallman story. He lived next door to our crunchy co-op. Periodically we would have quite good parties, and sometimes random people would walk in from the street upon hearing the music. Well, at one point during one of these parties, someone mentioned that there was a particularly disreputable looking "homeless guy", half-passed out on a couch and should we maybe get him out of there. To which the horrified response was "Are you kidding? That's Richard Stallman!".
posted by bumpkin at 11:29 AM on September 22, 2009 [6 favorites]


Yeah, well, I beat a MacArthur Fellow at Trivial Pursuit, so take that, GENIUS.

(Ahem. This is actually true).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:59 AM on September 22, 2009


Odd. I've run into three other people named Rackstraw in the last week.

What's that Scoob? The MP for Blackburn, YOIEKS!
posted by atrazine at 12:17 PM on September 22, 2009


Who built the Web site? Yeesh. Remind me not to use Blackbaud to build my non-profit Web site ...
posted by mrgrimm at 12:58 PM on September 22, 2009


Yeah, well, I beat a MacArthur Fellow at Trivial Pursuit, so take that, GENIUS.


Yes, I enjoy consistently beating my MacArthur "genius" friend (a writer!) at Boggle and Snatch-It.
posted by stargell at 12:59 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Man. "Rackstraw" is one ass-kicker of a name.
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 1:12 PM on September 22, 2009


A friend of mine won one of these. He says the best part is being able to tell poeple that he is, in fact, officially a genius.

Ah, but it isn't so! They are popularly called "genius grants", but not, alas, officially.

He is officially misconceived to be a genius.
posted by kenko at 1:41 PM on September 22, 2009


They are popularly called "genius grants", but not, alas, officially. He is officially misconceived to be a genius.

OK, you break it to him.
posted by stargell at 2:28 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks for linking to that paper, Mutant. Great read.

This is a supremely interesting list of people.
posted by painquale at 5:16 PM on September 22, 2009


You.

Yeah, you.

You feel that sting, right there in your solar plexus?

While you're grinning and doing your little "Oh wow awesome looky a papermaker neat good for them" bullshit dance here on the blue, you still feel that sting there, right? That like that bubble of sour vitriol sitting right there between your lungs and murmuring that you'll never do shit worth shit to anyone? That feeling right there?

Yeah? Me too.

So you take that, and push on it. Hard. Harder. Push on that fucker, till it's so tiny and dense it's like a black hole at the core of your body, and then take all that force within it and use it to do something big.

And by the time they give you your genius grant, you won't even care.
posted by rusty at 5:59 PM on September 22, 2009


Is the award tax free?
posted by sammyo at 7:05 PM on September 22, 2009


If you're thinking about winning a MacArthur grant, you're doing it wrong.
posted by bricoleur at 7:44 PM on September 22, 2009


Very interesting people.
It's a lottery. It's like getting a visit from The [Half-] Millionaire.
I was a nominator one year, but I'm sworn to secrecy. Lucky no one can identify me on the Internet.
posted by cogneuro at 8:43 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


As I've said here on the blue before, my two biggest idols , although in entirely different fields, both happen to be MacArthur Fellowship recipients, so the MacArthur Foundation is totally onto something. Clearly I should start following what the rest of these folks are up to.
posted by naoko at 9:38 PM on September 22, 2009


I took creative writing classes under Deborah Eisenberg as a senior at UVA several years ago, when I was an ungrateful jerk who felt she was sloppy seconds to Rita Dove, former US poet laureate and UVA professor whose classes were open only to MFA students. My only consolation thought when Prof. Eisenberg walked in the room (frizzy, avian, completely missable in a grocery line) was that maybe I'd meet Wallace Shawn, her husband.

It was only later, when I picked up Twilight of the Superheroes as a post-grad, that I saw Ms. Eisenberg's real talent, that she was teaching us to pay her bills and secure a lifestyle, not because we were terribly special writers. I doubt I ever owned up to the honor of studying under such a gifted writer. When I was her student, the kind who never showed up with material or wildly abused puns in hopes to sound insincere, I felt she was overly delicate and deliberate with the kind of amateur writing that I hated, entertaining obvious metaphors and picking over unsubtle wording of students who used fiction class as public livejournals. She was kind to everyone, and worked tirelessly with each of us over her weekends to make sure that we had a strong portfolio by the end of the semester.

Abject jealousy aside now that I'm eating $.99 mac and cheese subsidized by a job that will never reward me with a $500K grant, I'm relieved to know Prof. Eisenberg has more than enough money to quit tirelessly instructing oblivious students who'd rather be eating pizza in their dorm rooms.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:49 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Weirdly enough, I have two ex-boyfriends (who do not know each other) who have won MacArthur grants. The pride/joy/envy mix is odd when you hear that someone you know really well has won one (as opposed to someone you know professionally, like Eisenberg and Danticat, for whom I am thrilled).

Note: Stallman is not one of those ex-boyfriends, so that means that at least three MacArthur recipients have touched my butt.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:01 PM on September 23, 2009


Isn't "Rackstraw" one of Batman's nefarious nemeses?
posted by ...possums at 5:49 PM on September 23, 2009


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