The 25 recipients of the 2021 MacArthur Foundation grants announced today include Daniel Alarcón, writer and producer of the NPR-distributed podcast Radio Ambulante, author of fiction and nonfiction works, including some genre. The complete list of grant recipients is here. The fellows receive $625,000 each, which they are free to spend however they see fit.
Alarcón’s short story “Abraham Lincoln Has Been Shot” was selected for Best American Fantasy (2007) edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. He also was a 2016 Eisner Award finalist in the Best Adaptation from Another Medium category for City of Clowns (co-created with Sheila Alvarado).
The MacArthur Foundation cited Alarcón’s work in “chronicling the social and cultural ties that connect Spanish-speaking communities across the Americas.”
The MacArthur Fellowships, also known as “Genius Grants,” are worth $625,000, paid in quarterly installments over five years.
The MacArthur Foundation comments on the selections:
Although nominees are reviewed for their achievements, the fellowship is not a lifetime achievement award, but rather an investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential. Indeed, the purpose of the MacArthur Fellows Program is to enable recipients to exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society.
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….
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….
The complete class of Fellows are introduced in this video:
In announcing the selections, MacArthur President John Palfrey said:
From addressing the consequences of climate change to furthering our understanding of human behavior to fusing forms of artistic expression, this year’s 26 extraordinary MacArthur Fellows demonstrate the power of individual creativity to reframe old problems, spur reflection, create new knowledge, and better the world for everyone. They give us reason for hope, and they inspire us all to follow our own creative instincts.
Lynda Barry is best-known for her weekly comic strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek. She has also produced several illustrated novels including The Good Times are Killing Me (1988), Cruddy (1999), and One! Hundred! Demons! (2002). Her graphic novel What It Is (2008), part memoir, part collage and part workbook, won the 2009 Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work.
In recognition of her contributions to the comic art
form, Comics Alliance named Barry as one of twelve women cartoonists deserving
of lifetime achievement recognition.
Others receiving fellowships are:
Elizabeth Anderson – Philosopher. Employing
pragmatist methods to examine the ways that various institutions, policies, and
social practices serve to promote or hinder conditions of democratic equality.
++ Ann Arbor, MI
sujatha baliga — Attorney and
Restorative Justice Practitioner. Expanding access to survivor-centered
restorative justice strategies that interrupt the criminalization of people of
color and break cycles of recidivism and violence. ++ Oakland, CA
Mel Chin – Artist. Harnessing the
power of art to raise awareness of social concerns through a practice that
defies categorization. ++ Egypt, NC
Danielle Citron — Legal Scholar. Addressing the
scourge of cyber harassment by raising awareness of the toll it takes on
victims and proposing reforms to combat the most extreme forms of online abuse.
++ Boston, MA
Lisa Daugaard — Criminal Justice
Reformer. Developing alternative approaches to policing and law
enforcement practices to improve outcomes for those struggling with substance
use disorder and mental illness. ++ Seattle, WA
Annie Dorsen — Theater Artist. Pioneering a new
genre of theater that dramatizes the ways in which nonhuman intelligence is
profoundly changing the nature of work, culture, and social relationships. ++ Brooklyn,
Andrea Dutton — Geochemist and
Paleoclimatologist. Furthering current understanding of sea level dynamics by
reconstructing the extent and rate of sea level rise in the ancient past. ++ Madison,
Jeffrey Gibson — Visual Artist. Melding
indigenous North American materials and forms with those of Western
contemporary art to create a new hybrid visual vocabulary and prompting a shift
in how Native American art is perceived and historicized. ++ Annandale-on-Hudson,
Mary Halvorson — Guitarist and
Composer. Experimenting at the intersection of jazz and rock with a
signature sound on her instrument and an aesthetic that evolves and surprises
with each new album and configuration of bandmates. ++ New York, NY
Saidiya Hartman — Literary Scholar
and Cultural Historian. Tracing the afterlife of slavery in modern American
life and rescuing from oblivion stories of sparsely documented lives that have
been systematically excluded from historical archives. ++ New York, NY
Walter Hood — Landscape and
Public Artist. Creating ecologically sustainable urban spaces that
resonate with and enrich the lives of current residents while also honoring
communal histories. ++ Oakland, CA
Stacy Jupiter — Marine Scientist.
local cultural practices with field research to design conservation strategies
that protect ecosystem biodiversity and the well-being of coastal communities.
++ Suva, Fiji
Zachary Lippman — Plant Biologist.
the genetic mechanisms determining flowering and flower production and
developing tools for breeding hardier, higher-yielding crops. ++ Cold Spring
Valeria Luiselli — Writer. Challenging
conventional notions of authorship in fiction, essays, and inventive hybrids of
the two that pose profound questions about the various ways we piece together
stories and document the lives of others. ++ Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
Kelly Lytle Hernández – Historian. Challenging
long-held beliefs about the origins, ideology, and evolution of incarceration
and immigrant detention practices in the United States. ++ Los Angeles, CA
Sarah Michelson – Choreographer. Expanding the
scope of contemporary dance in works that extend and subvert classical, modern,
and postmodern traditions and make evident the physical realities of dancers’
performance. ++ New York, NY
Jeffrey Alan Miller — Literary Scholar.
light on how the writing practices of Renaissance scholars shaped foundational
texts of modern Christianity, philosophy, and literature. ++ Montclair, NJ
Jerry X. Mitrovica — Theoretical
Geophysicist. Revising our understanding of the dynamics and structure
of Earth’s interior and developing models to better predict the geometry and
sources of sea level change in the modern world and the geological past. ++ Cambridge,
Emmanuel Pratt — Urban Designer. Integrating
agriculture, education, and design in a resident-driven approach to community
development and turning neglected urban neighborhoods into places of growth and
vitality. ++ Chicago, IL
Cameron Rowland – Artist. Using physical
objects and contractual relations—such as items seized in civil forfeiture or
furniture made by prison labor—to make visible the mechanisms through which
systemic racism is perpetuated. ++ Queens, NY
Vanessa Ruta – Neuroscientist. Investigating
how stimuli in the physical world shape the function of neural circuits and are
translated into innate and learned behaviors. ++ New York, NY
Joshua Tenenbaum — Cognitive
Scientist. Combining computational models with behavioral experiments
to shed light on human learning, reasoning, and perception, and exploring how
to bring artificial intelligence closer to the capabilities of human thinking.
++ Cambridge, MA
Jenny Tung — Evolutionary
Anthropologist and Geneticist. Revealing links between social
environmental factors—such as social status and social integration—and genomic
variation and how these connections impact health, well-being, and longevity.
++ Durham, NC
Ocean Vuong — Poet and Fiction
Writer. Marrying folkloric traditions with linguistic experimentation in works
that explore the effects of intergenerational trauma, the refugee experience,
and the complexities of identity and desire with eloquence and clarity. ++ Amherst,
Emily Wilson — Classicist and
Translator. Bringing classical literature to new audiences in works
that convey ancient texts’ relevance to our time and highlight the assumptions
about social relations that underlie translation decisions. ++ Philadelphia,
Genre writer Kelly Link and planetary scientist Sarah T. Stewart are among the 25 fellows who are receiving this year’s “genius grants” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, $625,000 disbursed over five years to spend any way they choose. The recipients work in a variety of fields, from the arts and sciences to public health and civil liberties,
Kelly Link is a short story writer pushing the boundaries of literary fiction in works that draw on genres such as fantasy, science fiction, and horror while also engaging fully with the concerns and emotional realism of contemporary life. The worlds of her stories are recognizably based on reality but governed by idiosyncratic, internal logics. The elements of the surreal and fantastic that emerge without explanation are by turns unsettling, heartbreaking, and hilarious.
The familiar tedium of low-wage retail jobs, for example, is considered in the context of 24-hour convenience stores for zombies (“The Hortlak”), and a couple’s attempt to revive their marriage by moving to a house in the country fails, due to complications posed by giant bunnies and the haunting of household items (“Stone Animals”). Many of the stories collected in Get in Trouble(2015), Link’s most recent volume, take place in social landscapes marked by deep social and economic inequality. In “The Summer People,” teenage Fran faces a life of limited opportunities both because of poverty and her forced servitude to magical fairy-like creatures. She escapes on morally ambiguous terms, deceiving a classmate from an upper-class family into becoming the new captive caretaker. “Valley of the Girls” explores the consequences of excessive wealth from the perspective of the privileged. Teenagers of the very rich are protected from kidnapping and their own potentially bad choices by having body doubles act as their public “Faces.” The nonlinear structure of the story obscures the major relationships among the real teenagers and their “Faces” until halfway through the story, when with a single sentence Link clarifies the identities of the characters and the inevitable tragedy of the story’s ending.
Link is committed to helping other writers chart their own course, much as she did; with her husband, Gavin Grant, she runs the Small Beer Press, which publishes unique voices in fantasy and literary fiction that do not appeal to commercial publishers. As a writer and an editor, Link is mapping new literary territory, and she is a source of inspiration for many young writers dissatisfied with traditional distinctions between genres.
Sarah Stewart is a planetary scientist shedding light on planet formation and evolution. Through a combination of shock physics experiments on natural materials (such as ice and rock), theoretical models, and computational simulations, Stewart investigates the effects of high-energy impacts onto planets and planet-like bodies. For example, using ice impact experiments, she demonstrated that the presence of subsurface ice significantly and predictably affects the shape of an impact crater, such that the shapes of craters on planets such as Mars can reveal much about their subsurface composition.
Most notably, Stewart has advanced a novel explanation for how the Moon was formed. It had been widely accepted that the moon was formed from the debris of an object that collided with the proto-Earth. Recent geochemical studies, however, show that the chemical composition of the Moon is very similar to that of the Earth—that is, the Moon is made up primarily of terrestrial materials rather than materials from the impacting celestial body. Stewart and her colleagues have discovered an entirely new astrophysical object, called a synestia, in seeking to resolve this discrepancy. A synestia is a donut-shaped cloud of vaporized and molten rock produced when two objects collide in a high-energy, high-angular momentum impact. The Earth and Moon both formed from one large synestia, produced by such a collision, cooled and condensed. The synestia theory could explain both the similarity in the elemental and chemical compositions of the Earth and Moon as well as heretofore unexplained features in the Moon’s orbit.
The synestia structure could be a common outcome of collisions during planetary growth and thus hold broader implications for understanding the evolution of other planets. With the ever-growing number of exoplanet discoveries and missions to other planets, Stewart will play a critical role in providing a firmer and more comprehensive basis for understanding planet formation and the resulting physical, geological, and geochemical features of planets.
Although none come from the bullseye center of the sff field, like 1995 winner Octavia Butler, one of the 2017 winners has a genre connection, opera director and producer Yuval Sharon, whose next project is an adaptation of the radio program “War of the Worlds.”
“I’m totally amazed,” said Sharon, 37, the founder and artistic director of The Industry, a Los Angeles-based production company that produces operas in nontraditional spaces and formats. A 2015 production transported audience members and performers to various locations in Los Angeles via limousines, with singers and musicians performing along the way and at each stop.
Sharon’s “War of the Worlds” will be performed in November utilizing decommissioned World War II sirens to broadcast a performance occurring simultaneously inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall and at nearby locations on the streets of downtown Los Angeles.
Orson Welles’ 1938 “fake news” led millions of panicked listeners to believe that aliens were invading. Yuval Sharon takes the original radio script as the basis of an audacious new performance piece to be heard around L.A. — at WWII era sirens reactivated for two-way communication — and simultaneously at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Composer Annie Gosfield’s use of radio sounds makes her the ideal collaborator in this must-see event.
WAR OF THE WORLDS delves into new layers of the city’s history and bring them to life in an unprecedented way. The sirens that dot the landscape of Los Angeles are silent witnesses to a time filled with existential anxiety, and also to the birth of the city’s cultural development.
World War II brought to Los Angeles both the constant fear of annihilation from beyond – and, paradoxically, a stream of European refugees who shaped the city’s cultural growth. As markers of the turning point of the city, the 240 defunct sirens are ideal icons to resurrect in the hopes of both commemorating the past but also meditating on the present and future life of a city undergoing such an exciting cultural transformation.
I knew I would be offering my subjects a Clarke story at some point, not because he is an old favourite of mine, but because Clarke was name-checked in the Facebook post that inspired Young People Read Old SF.
nobody discovers a lifelong love of science fiction through Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein anymore, and directing newbies toward the work of those masters is a destructive thing, because the spark won’t happen.
But which Clarke? A White Hart anecdote? (No bar stories in this series … so far). A Meeting with Medusa? His creepy “A Walk in the Dark”? The puritanical “I Remember Babylon”? After considerable dithering, I selected 1951’s “Superiority,” because I thought pretty much everyone has had some worthy endeavour undermined by someone else’s desire to embrace a new shiny, whether it’s a committee member using email options they clearly have not mastered (1) or simply someone who discovers Windows 10 installing itself on their once useful computer. Or, in the case that inspired Clarke, the V2 rocket program that undermined the German war effort….
… Aidan: Very interesting. I was definitely raised on series and trilogies as I first discovered science fiction and fantasy, and I totally agree that there’s something exciting and comforting for a young reader to know that there are more books just like the one she’s finished reading. As I’ve grown older, though, my tastes have changed quite a bit.
Honestly, I think that downfall you mention is a serious one for me. My time for reading is limited, even more so as I’ve grown older, established a career, and started a family, so I want to know that when I commit to a story, I’m guaranteed some measure of satisfaction by the time I finish it….
Corrina: It’s the time commitment for a stand-alone that gets to me. I have to take that extra time to get used to the style of the book. I’m more likely to enjoy something that is fast-paced in that case, like Chuck Wendig’s Invasive, which really reads more like a movie playing in my head….
The MacArthur Fellowship is a $625,000, no-strings-attached grant for individuals who have shown exceptional creativity in their work and the promise to do more
Here are some of the fellows who are involved in the arts:
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, New York, New York
Playwright using a range of theatrical genres in subversive, often unsettling works that engage frankly with the ways in which race, class, and history are negotiated in both private and public.
Josh Kun, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
Cultural Historian exploring the ways in which the arts and popular culture are conduits to cross-cultural exchange and bringing diverse communities in Los Angeles together around heretofore unnoticed cultural commonalities.
Maggie Nelson, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California
Writer rendering pressing issues of our time into portraits of day-to-day experience in works of nonfiction marked by dynamic interplay between personal experience and critical theory.
Claudia Rankine, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
Poet crafting critical texts for understanding American culture at the beginning of the twenty-first century in inventive, ever-evolving forms of poetic expression.
Lauren Redniss, Parsons, The New School for Design, New York, New York
Artist and Writer fusing artwork, written text, and design in a unique approach to visual nonfiction that enriches the ways in which stories can be conveyed, experienced, and understood.
Sarah Stillman, The New Yorker, New York, New York
Long-Form Journalist bringing to light the stories of people usually invisible to mainstream reporting and providing new and compelling perspectives on even well-covered social justice issues.
Gene Luen Yang, San Jose, California
Graphic Novelist bringing diverse people and cultures to children’s and young adult literature and confirming comics’ place as an important creative and imaginative force within literature, art, and education.
(4) GENRE REALITY. Ann Leckie takes a swing at defining “Real Science Fiction” by looking at a negative definition.
It is notoriously difficult to define “science fiction” but a common attempt to do so–to wall off stuff that isn’t “really” science fiction from the proper stuff–is to assert that a real science fiction story wouldn’t survive the removal of the science fictiony bits, where, I don’t know, I guess “fake” science fiction is just Westerns with spaceships instead of horses or somesuch….
And I can’t help noticing how often this particular criterion is used to delegitimize stories as “real” science fiction that by any other measure would more than qualify. It’s not just that the critic doesn’t really like this work, no, sadly the story is just not “really” science fiction, because if you take away the robots and the spaceships and the cloning and the black holes and the aliens and the interstellar civilizations and the fact that it’s set way in the future, well, it’s still a story about people wanting something and struggling to get it. Not really science fiction, see?
(5) SCHEINMAN OBIT. How “The Day the Earth Stood Still” became the impetus for the creation of assembly-line robots. From a New York Times obituary.
Victor Scheinman [1942-2016], who overcame his boyhood nightmares about a science-fiction movie humanoid to build the first successful electrically powered, computer-controlled industrial robot, died on Tuesday in Petrolia, Calif. He was 73.
His brother, Dr. Richard Scheinman, said the cause was complications of heart disease. He said he had been driving his brother to visit Dr. Scheinman’s home in Northern California when he apparently had a heart attack. He lived in Woodside, near Palo Alto, Calif.
Mr. Scheinman was part of Stanford University’s mechanical engineering department when, in 1969, he developed a programmable six-jointed robot that was named the Stanford Arm.
It was adapted by manufacturers to become the leading robot in assembling and spot-welding products, ranging from fuel pumps and windshield wipers for automobiles to inkjet cartridges for printers. Its ability to perform repeatable functions continuously equaled or surpassed that of human workers.
The latest feature on Pottermore, the ever-expanding home of Harry Potter content, is a quiz designed by J.K. Rowling to tell you what your Patronus is.
In case you’d forgotten, a Patronus is a spell conjured by a happy memory and the incantation “Expecto patronum!” The Patronus takes the form of a silvery animal that protects against the soul-crushing depression caused by exposure to Dementors.
The test on Pottermore, like all Pottermore quizzes, is multiple choice. Only instead of answering a question, two or three words pop up and you have a short time to click one instinctively. No thoughts needed or wanted.
Award-winning translator and author Ken Liu presents a collection of short speculative fiction from China.
Some stories have won awards; some have been included in various ‘Year’s Best’ anthologies; some have been well reviewed by critics and readers; and some are simply Ken’s personal favorites. Many of the authors collected here (with the obvious exception of Liu Cixin) belong to the younger generation of ‘rising stars’.
In addition, three essays at the end of the book explore Chinese science fiction. Liu Cixin’s essay, The Worst of All Possible Universes and The Best of All Possible Earths, gives a historical overview of SF in China and situates his own rise to prominence as the premier Chinese author within that context. Chen Qiufan’s The Torn Generation gives the view of a younger generation of authors trying to come to terms with the tumultuous transformations around them. Finally, Xia Jia, who holds the first Ph.D. issued for the study of Chinese SF, asks What Makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese?.
Full table of contents:
Introduction: Chinese Science Fiction in Translation
The Year of the Rat
The Fish of Lijiang
The Flower of Shazui
A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight
Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse (unpublished)
The City of Silence
Grave of the Fireflies
Taking Care of God
The Worst of All Possible Universes and the Best of All Possible Earths: Three-Body and Chinese Science Fiction
The Torn Generation: Chinese Science Fiction in a Culture in Transition
What Makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese?
(10) BANDERSNATCH. Diana Pavlac Glyer’s book about the Inklings, Bandersnatch, was released in January 2016. Here was one of the ads from last year encouraging people to pre-order….
[Thanks to Carl Slaughter, Darrah Chavey, Dawn Incognito, Andrew Porter, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stores. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Bruce Arthurs.]
Russell is the author of the novel Swamplandia! and two story collections, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Antrim’s works include the widely-reviewed novels The Verificationist and The Hundred Brothers, and a nonfiction book The Afterlife: A Memoir.
Another winner is Carl Haber whose optical scanning restoration method has made it possible to recover and listen again to recordings in obsolete media developed by Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and other audio pioneers. Click on the links to listen to examples.