Jacqueline Woodson, N.K. Jemisin, Fred Moten, and Tressie McMillan Cottom were among 21 recipients of the 2020 MacArthur Foundation “genius grants” announced on October 6, 2020.
The MacArthur Fellows Program, also known as the MacArthur Fellowship and commonly but unofficially known as the “Genius Grant”, is a prize awarded annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to between 20 and 30 individuals, working in any field, who have shown “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction” and are citizens or residents of the United States. Some previous writer recipients of this grant have been Dinaw Mengestu, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Edwidge Danticat, and many others.
The 2020 recipients of this eagerly sought out grant were announced earlier today and they are twenty-one of the leading people in their fields from economics, science, academia, art, and everywhere in between. In that list of recipients, there were four African Americans in the literary space with three writers and one poet and critic in Jacqueline Woodson, N.K. Jemisin, Fred Moten and Tressie McMillan Cottom. Here is more about these four from the official award’s website.
N.K. Jemisin is a speculative fiction writer exploring deeply human questions about structural racism, environmental crises, and familial relationships while immersing readers in intricately imagined, fantastical worlds. The societies she constructs are populated by protagonists who push against the conventions of earlier-era science fiction and epic fantasy, which often feature male-dominated casts of characters and draw heavily from the legends of medieval Europe. Her multi-volume sagas counterbalance the monumental themes of oppression and exploitation with attentiveness to the more intimate inner workings of families and communities and the range of emotions—from love to rage, resentment to empathy—that they inspire.
Tressie McMillan Cottom
Tressie McMillan Cottom is a sociologist, writer, and public scholar shaping discourse on pressing issues at the confluence of race, gender, education, and digital technology. In work across multiple platforms, ranging from academic scholarship to essays and social media engagement, McMillan Cottom combines analytical insights and personal experiences in a frank, accessible style of communication that resonates with broad audiences within and outside of academia.
Jacqueline Woodson is a writer redefining children’s and young adult literature in works that reflect the complexity and diversity of the world we live in while stretching young readers’ intellectual abilities and capacity for empathy. In nearly thirty publications that span picture books, young adult novels, and poetry, Woodson crafts stories about Black children, teenagers, and families that evoke the hopefulness and power of human connection even as they tackle difficult issues such as the history of slavery and segregation, incarceration, interracial relationships, social class, gender, and sexual identity.
Fred Moten is a cultural theorist and poet creating new conceptual spaces that accommodate emergent forms of Black cultural production, aesthetics, and social life. In his theoretical and critical writing on visual culture, poetics, music, and performance, Moten seeks to move beyond normative categories of analysis, grounded in Western philosophical traditions, that do not account for the Black experience. He is developing a new mode of aesthetic inquiry wherein the conditions of being Black play a central role.