It's like Christmas for the ultra-talented. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced 23 "genius" grant winners, bestowing $500,000 awards to writers and scientists, musicians and photographers from Los Angeles to Switzerland.
Among the winners are Junot Díaz, 43, a Dominican-born Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and author of the recently released “This Is How You Lose Her”; Chris Thile, 31, a composer and a mandolinist for the folk band Nickel Creek, who is the youngest grant recipient; and David Finkel, 56, a Washington Post reporter and author of “The Good Soldiers.”
“Reading the stories in Díaz's new collection, 'This Is How You Lose Her,' is often a three-dimensional, laugh-out-loud experience,” wrote the Los Angeles Times’ Hector Tobar a few weeks ago. He called Díaz a “true master” and a “leading voice of American fiction.”
The Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation also gave awards to a range of scientists and researchers, according to a list obtained by the Associated Press prior to the official announcement of the winners. They included Tuscon-based telescope designer Olivier Guyon, 36; tectonic researcher Terry Plank, 48, of New York; and Northwestern University historian Dylan C. Penningroth, 41, who has studied property ownership among slaves and their children.
The foundation says the five-year, $500,000 grants come with “no strings attached” in the spirit of fostering intellectual freedom.
California-based winners include Elissa Hallem, 34, a neurobiologist at UCLA; Sarkis Mazmanian, 39, a medical microbiologist at Caltech; Maurice Lim Miller, 66, an anti-poverty community developer in Oakland and the oldest recipient; and Uta Barth, 54, a Los Angeles-based photographer.
“Barth photographs the ordinary and overlooked: light falling across a wall or floor, the edge of a window, a sprig of flowers, a leafless branch, the seams and surfaces of a domestic interior,” the Los Angeles Times wrote of her in 2008. “Born in Berlin in 1958 and raised in California, she subverts traditional expectations that a photograph should contain an overt subject, clearly described.”
Most of the winners are based in the U.S., with the exception of Natalia Almada, a 37-year-old documentarian based in Mexico City who covers Mexican life and history, and Melody Swartz, 43, a bioengineer in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The MacArthur Foundation was founded by John D. MacArthur, who owned Bankers Life and Casualty Co., and his wife, Catherine. The foundation claimed $5.7 billion in assets in 2011, in which it granted $230 million in awards.
Here is the full list of winners, according to the Associated Press:
- Natalia Almada, 37, documentarian
- Uta Barth, 54, photographer
- Claire Chase, 34, arts entrepreneur
- Raj Chetty, 33, economist
- Maria Chudnovsky, 35, mathematician
- Eric Coleman, 47, geriatrician
- Junot Díaz, 43, fiction writer
- David Finkel, 56, journalist
- Olivier Guyon, 36, optical physicist and astronomer
- Elissa Hallem, 34, neurobiologist
- An-My Le, 52, photographer
- Sarkis Mazmanian, 39, medical microbiologist
- Dinaw Mengestu, 34, writer
- Maurice Lim Miller, 66, social services innovator
- Dylan C. Penningroth, 41, historian
- Terry Plank, 48, geochemist
- Laura Poitras, 48, documentarian
- Nancy Rabalais, 62, marine ecologist
- Benoit Rolland, 58, stringed-instrument bow maker
- Daniel Spielman, 42, computer scientist
- Melody Swartz, 43, bioengineer
- Chris Thile, 31, mandolinist and composer