The Geniuses Are Here
September 29, 2015 10:31 AM   Subscribe

The 2015 crop of MacArthur Fellows has been announced, starring Ta-Nehisi Coates, puppeteer Basil Twist, sociologist Matthew Desmond (whose work on eviction has been previously discussed on MetaFilter), and poet Ellen Bryant Voigt.

The MacArthur Foundation gives Fellows $625,000 over five years to do with what they will. Past Fellows include Richard Stallman, Ornette Coleman, and Cormac McCarthy. Thomas Frank probably still thinks they're "a metaphor for our increasingly fragmented and pointless civilization".
posted by Etrigan (47 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
So pleased to see Coates getting this.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:34 AM on September 29, 2015 [28 favorites]


So pleased to see Coates getting this.

Selection Committee Meeting, 2015:
"How about Ta-Nehisi Coates?"
"What, again?"
"No, he hasn't got one yet."
"Oh, please. Of course he... wait..."
(many palms hit foreheads)
posted by Etrigan at 10:37 AM on September 29, 2015 [44 favorites]


Yes, Coates really leaps out of the list. So wonderful for him, and for us his readers.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:37 AM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also: Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), and novelist Ben Lerner (Leaving the Atocha Station, 10:04).
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:38 AM on September 29, 2015 [22 favorites]


Mr. Miranda said he would donate some of the prize money to “organizations that I have fallen in love with,” like Graham Windham, founded in 1806 by Alexander Hamilton’s wife, Elizabeth — which continues to serve needy children and families — and the Mariposa Center, which helps girls in the Dominican Republic.

“This is not all going to go to me,” he said. “This is also going to go to some of the places that have fed my soul.”

posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:39 AM on September 29, 2015 [19 favorites]


dances_with_sneetches for his bold work in re-interpreting what it means to be an obscure author . . . (maybe next year)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:39 AM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Last year, I said that even though I'd never met Alison Bechdel, her work had been part of my life for such a long time, it felt like a friend of mine had been won the award. Coates winning this year is the online equivalent. ("He responded to my comment once on his old blog, so it's like we met.")
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:43 AM on September 29, 2015 [15 favorites]




What a terrific list. I am particularly glad to see LaToya Ruby Frazier on it.
posted by bakerina at 10:50 AM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I had fun this morning revisiting the first time I'd heard of Lin-Manuel Miranda on the Blue, which was when he did a parody of HSM2's "bet on it" to promote In the Heights

(although some of the comments...well, the past is a different country).
posted by dismas at 10:53 AM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm glad somebody is finally recognizing the genius of Fugue for Brotherhorns.
posted by kmz at 10:54 AM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


(although some of the comments...well, the past is a different country).

Ha, OMG. Yet somehow not surprising...
posted by kmz at 10:57 AM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Was curious about Ellen Bryant Voigt's work and so looked some up and so mostly remembered that I shouldn't read poetry at work if it's going to make me cry.
posted by maryr at 11:08 AM on September 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Coates is having one hell of a September.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:16 AM on September 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Wow, maryr, thank you for that link. How heart-achingly beautiful.
posted by chatongriffes at 11:18 AM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh good! I just referenced "this genius guy, has read every single book ever, is the smartest" to my extended family to tell them that yes, there are indeed structural problems that prevent people from bootstrapping their way out of crippling poverty / resource scarcity.

It is a true reflection of his talent that TNC is able to explain complicated issues in a way that we common folk can understand and even use as armor when faced with ignorance.

Hurray!
posted by skrozidile at 11:24 AM on September 29, 2015


Basil Twist deserves it for the insanely adorable dancing Chairry in the Pee Wee broadway show. I gasped and then I cried. And then I cried like five more times during the show.

(and then during curtain call I am pretty sure that I made Eye Contact with John Paragon and my tears evaporated like *poof*)

(there should be a show called Eye Contact with John Paragon. call me, John, I'm available for cohosting duties)
posted by Ennis Tennyone at 11:29 AM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


And Lin-Manuel Miranda!!!

The Hamilton cast recording is out on Spotify and I'm listening to it nowwww.....
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:32 AM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


A puppeteer? I have hope!
posted by cjorgensen at 11:33 AM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Lin-Manuel Miranda is so deserving of this; he's a national treasure and absolutely a genius. If you haven't listened to Hamilton, you gotta. It doesn't matter if you "don't like" rap, or hip-hop, or show tunes, or whatever (don't listen at work you will cry just like reading cf poet upthread)

Towards the end of the run of his first Broadway musical, In the Heights, he was a guest on the "Ask a Star" YouTube playlist from Broadway.com. One of the questions he was asked was "If you won a $96,000 lottery and had to spend it all in a day, what would you spend it on?" (A $96k lottery ticket is the pivotal plot point of In the Heights). The first thing he says is "I'd give half of it away right away," and then goes on to name organizations he'd give it to: Broadway Cares and Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone. I love that he's added other charities and organizations to his donation roster through writing Hamilton.

He also instituted Ham4Ham, which is a lottery that runs at every showing of Hamilton that anyone can enter. The entire front row of the theater is reserved for this lottery; the winners (names drawn on the street by the stage door) can buy two front-row tickets on the day of the performance for $10. This is for a show with orchestra seats generally priced around $600--and that's from reputable ticketers, not scalpers.

Every performance, the full front row goes for $10 a pop.

He also comes out the stage door a few times a week before the lottery drawing (two hours before curtain) and entertains the hundreds of people hoping to get a seat. Just search "Ham4Ham" on YouTube for endless videos of him, his cast, and special guests doing goofy stuff, great freestyle raps, beautiful songs, and other entertainment.

What a complete mensch.
posted by tzikeh at 11:34 AM on September 29, 2015 [30 favorites]




Sweet! One down, three to go.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:46 AM on September 29


Jon Bois next year, no question.
posted by kiltedtaco at 11:40 AM on September 29, 2015 [5 favorites]




Jon Bois next year, no question.

I can't wait to see the official writeup. "Internet Writer doing weird things with sports video games and this whole big thing about Tim Tebow in Canada... no, really, it's awesome..."
posted by Etrigan at 12:08 PM on September 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


i am bursting at the seams excited for coates and the others mentioned here. i also want to point out peidong yang who received his grant for his work in artificial photosynthesis.
posted by nadawi at 12:09 PM on September 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


oh! and the ticket lottery for hamilton is so neat! RENT did that too and it was the reason i got to see the traveling show.
posted by nadawi at 12:10 PM on September 29, 2015


Great to see Ta-Nehisi Coates and Lin-Manuel Miranda - deserving winners. Going to see "Hamilton" this Friday, proceeds going to Wesleyan scholarship fund (Lin-Manuel is a fellow alumnus)
posted by vicusofrecirculation at 12:24 PM on September 29, 2015


I read somewhere that Ellen Bryant Voigt's using the money to develop a new form of empathy-based lie-detector machine with her collaborator Philip D. Kampff.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:26 PM on September 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


vicusofrecirculation: Going to see "Hamilton" this Friday

...

Don't look at me. Don't talk to me. *weeps about location and income*
posted by tzikeh at 12:27 PM on September 29, 2015


If you don't like Thomas Frank's take on the award, you will certainly not enjoy Michael Kinsley's opinions.
posted by BWA at 12:52 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


and this whole big thing about Tim Tebow in Canada... no, really, it's awesome... THE GREATEST ENGLISH LANGUAGE WORK OF LITERATURE EVER WRITTEN."
posted by echocollate at 12:58 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Academics typically use MacArthur money to NOT HAVE TO TEACH. For that reason I feel special affection for brattish Michael Silverstein, its youngest recipient ever, who had solved the problem of linguistic pragmatics, thereby transforming an entire field (language, semiotics, culture).

His fame lay mostly in his graduate students, and in his Famous Unpublished Papers, circulated as photocopied typescripts with his handwritten annotations. He was further elaborating his theories while teaching, and/or on minimal sleep.

Since his life was already perfect, he instead bought a black Jaguar, and took his impoverished graduate students out to splendid dinners.
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:04 PM on September 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


Is the first time a MacArthur winner will be writing a major superhero comic?
posted by lumpenprole at 1:12 PM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Is the first time a MacArthur winner will be writing a major superhero comic?

Twyla Tharp's run on Lobo was, I think, unfairly criticized.
posted by Etrigan at 1:16 PM on September 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


I was excited to see computational biologist John Novembre on the list. He does cool stuff.
posted by grouse at 1:40 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Weird, after googling Matthew Desmond and seeing his CV (opens .pdf) last night I thought "Wow, this guy is Macarthur bait." No idea that my hunch would be vindicated within twenty-four hours.
posted by sy at 3:15 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I get to hear Dimitri Nakassis give a talk tomorrow night- everyone here who knows him is super pumped that he won!
posted by Mouse Army at 5:39 PM on September 29, 2015


bakerina: "What a terrific list. I am particularly glad to see LaToya Ruby Frazier on it."

Me too, her work is amazing.
posted by octothorpe at 5:46 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seriously can't stop being excited about Hamilton (4 more years until it hits my state, right?) and am sooooo thrilled for LMM.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:00 PM on September 29, 2015


Ben Lerner!!!! I love it when one of the weird ones hits big.
posted by escabeche at 6:10 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


How neat would it be to be able to put "Certified Genius Tap Dancer" on your business cards?
posted by queensissy at 7:09 PM on September 29, 2015


queensissy: "How neat would it be to be able to put "Certified Genius Tap Dancer" on your business cards?"

Really.




If I could tap dance...
posted by Samizdata at 9:06 PM on September 29, 2015


Selection Committee Meeting, 2015:
"How about Ta-Nehisi Coates?"
"What, again?"
"No, he hasn't got one yet."
"Oh, please. Of course he... wait..."
(many palms hit foreheads)
I think, in fairness to the committee, it's worth remembering that the majority of TNC's impact on the public discussion only began in June of last year with the publication of "The Case for Reparations" His work as a blogger was certainly important and notable, but no more than, say, Andrew Sullivan or other political bloggers who had a solid body of work but never published that one piece that could be used by so many to frame an emerging social cause.

I don't mean to say the above to minimize TNC's accomplishments. I think his work is fantastic, and I am also glad that he's a Macarthur fellow. I'm also just sitting here thinking, "wow, it's been a hell of a year."
posted by bl1nk at 5:04 AM on September 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


In "Interview With a Putative Genius", Jeffrey Goldberg interviews Ta-Nehisi Coates:
Goldberg: I met Malala Yousafzai a couple of weeks ago. She’s 17 and she already has a Nobel Peace Prize. Are you a loser in comparison to Malala Yousafzai?

Coates: We are all losers in comparison to Malala Yousafzai. But we are not all geniuses. Like me.
posted by grouse at 5:49 AM on September 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that the MacArthur Foundation is based in New York, New York. I wonder what's in the water in New England to make all the geniuses there.
posted by CaseyB at 10:16 AM on September 30, 2015


I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that the MacArthur Foundation is based in New York, New York.

Chicago.
posted by Etrigan at 11:12 AM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wonder what's in the water in New England to make all the geniuses there.

It's mostly the Charles. Seriously, in life sciences alone, I don't think there's another city in the world with the resources Boston has.

Harvard and MIT each pretty much have a MacArthur winner every year. (As do Stanford and CalTech and other strong schools, it's the Cantabrigian duo practically sit on top of each other.)

(Also poets like Vermont. It's cheap and quiet)
posted by maryr at 12:49 PM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


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