Since 1981, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has given out hundreds of “Genius Grants”, inducting individuals such as playwright and educator Anna Deavere Smith, composer and drummer Max Roach and graphic novelist Alison Bechdel into the MacArthur Fellows Program, as it is more formally known.
The program honors not the person’s past achievements, but rather is an investment in their “originality, insight, and potential,” according to the foundation’s literature. MacArthur fellows include historians, landscape architects, choreographers, computer scientists, surgeons, anthropologist, psychiatrists, sound sculptors and many more.
Recently, the foundation released its list of 2017 fellowship recipients, and it is an impressive one to say the least. Rounding out this year’s fellows are three Big Ten alums – two of which are current professors. Take a look at how our most recent “Geniuses” Live B1G.
Jesmyn Ward (MFA ’05, University of Michigan): As a novelist, Jesmyn Ward explores the lives of generations of impoverished minorities in the Mississippi Delta and Gulf Coast regions. Her breakthrough work, Where the Line Bleeds, follows two brothers and examines the ramifications the choices they make have on the trajectory of their lives. She followed it up with the novel, Salvage the Bones, which explores the time before and after Hurricane Katrina through the lens of one family. Ward has taken home numerous awards, including the 2011 National Book Award for Fiction, and she is currently an associate professor of English at Tulane University
Jason De León (Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Michigan; Ph.D. ’08, Penn State University): Jason De León’s research is probably not what most people think of when think of anthropology. His work explores issues surrounding violence, Latin American migration, materiality and the archaeology of the contemporary. As the director of the Undocumented Migration Project, De León oversees “a long-term study of clandestine border crossing that uses a combination of ethnographic, archaeological, and forensic approaches to understand this phenomenon in a variety of geographic contexts.”
Derek Peterson (Professor of History and Afro-American Studies, University of Michigan; Ph.D. ’00, University of Minnesota): A titan of modern scholarship on the subject of Africa, Derek Peterson’s books on topics ranging from African language literature in Kenya to the East African Revival have garnered him numerous awards. Peterson has served as the Coordinator for the African Heritage Initiative, which brings together scholars from across the state of Michigan and across the continent of Africa. Currently, Peterson is working on a profile of controversial Ugandan leader Idi Amin.
Click here for a full list of the 2017 MacArthur Fellows.