No-strings-attached fellowships for artists, scientists, achievers
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn has a flair for genius: Nine of the 24 MacArthur Fellows who will be receiving so-called “genius grants” this year are from the New York area, and four of them hail from Brooklyn.
Visual artist Carrie Mae Weems, fiction/ nonfiction writer Donald Antrim, fiction writer Karen Russell, and dancer/ choreographer Kyle Abraham, all called “exceptionally creative,” will receive the coveted no-strings-attached MacArthur grants, which amount to $625,000 paid out over five years.
The grants are meant to give winners the freedom to follow their own creative vision.
Outside of Brooklyn, other New York area winners include Jeremy Denk, pianist and writer; Vijay Iyer, jazz pianist and composer; Julie Livingston, public health historian and anthropologist; Sheila Nirenberg, neuroscientist; and Alexei Ratmansky, choreographer.
While the world thinks the grants are given to “geniuses,” that term is too narrow, says the MacArthur Foundation. “We are looking for individuals who are engaged in the process of making or finding something new, or in connecting the seemingly unconnected in significant ways. We are looking for people on the precipice of a great discovery or achievement.”
Winners are chosen in a process involving thousands of expert and anonymous nominators and evaluators. From 2001 to 2012, 36 percent of the MacArthur fellows came from the arts and humanities, 36 percent from science or social science, and 26 percent worked on social problems such as homelessness, food security and health care.
Brooklyn’s MacArthur Fellows:
Writer Karen Russell’s acclaimed first book “Swamplandia!” was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Her native Florida and the mysticism of the Everglades inspired the work, which delves into a southern subculture unknown by the rest of America. Russell won the 2012 National Magazine Award for fiction. “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” is her most recent story collection.
Photographer and video artist Carrie Mae Weems (who splits her time between Brooklyn and Syracuse) explores African American identity, class, and culture in documentary-style works. Her art incorporates folklore and experimental printing methods. Largely overlooked for decades, her work (“Ain’t Joking,” 1987; “The Kitchen Table Series,” 1990; “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried,” 1995; “The Louisiana Project,” 2004; “Roaming,” 2006) tackles the subjects of race, class and gender discrimination.
Kyle Abraham is a choreographer and dancer who runs his own dance company, Abraham.in.Motion on Dean Street in Brooklyn. He's originally from Pittsburgh, and overcame a tough childhood that often inspires his work, which delves into issues like gang and police violence. Abraham’s dance blends formal technique and informal styles like hip-hop. A 2012 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award recipient, he is currently working on a commission by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Donald Antrim (“The Verificationist,” “The Afterlife: A Memoir” and frequent contributor to The New Yorker), called a “writer's writer,” is deeply admired by the likes of Jonathan Franzen, George Saunders and Jeffrey Eugenides, and has received numerous awards and grants. He is a professor at Columbia who is deeply committed to his students, and he is currently working on a new novel and collection of short stories. His unusual style blends tightly controlled prose with comic absurdity and surreal events.
More information about the winners can be found at www.macfound.org.