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Here Are The 2017 MacArthur 'Genius' Grant Winners

The 2017 MacArthur "genius" grant recipients.
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
The 2017 MacArthur "genius" grant recipients.

It's not often you'll find these 24 names in the same place. They are historians and musicians, computer scientists and social activists, writers and architects. But whatever it may read on their business cards (if they've even got business cards), they now all have a single title in common: 2017 MacArthur Fellow.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced the winners of this year's fellowship — often better known as the "genius" grant — and the list includes a characteristically wide array of disciplines: There's painter Njideka Akunyili Crosby, for instance, and mathematician Emmanuel Candès and immunologist Gabriel Victora, among many others.

(Note: The foundation is among NPR's financial supporters.)

Each of the recipients has been selected for having "shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction" — and each will receive a $625,000 award from the foundation "as an investment in their potential," paid out over five years with no strings attached.

Jason De León, an anthropologist who studies and preserves the objects left behind by people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, tells NPR's Kelly McEvers he's got an idea of how he's planning to use that money: "Pay off my student loans," the 40-year-old scholar laughs.

"But you know, really, we see this grant as a way to facilitate the work that we're doing even more and to push it in new directions," De León continues. "It's really exciting to think about all these projects that me and many of my collaborators have been workshopping for years now. We're going to have resources to do these things."

You can find the full list of winners below — paired with the foundation's description of their work and, where possible, links to NPR's previous coverage to get to know them better.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 34, painter living in Los Angeles:

"Visualizing the complexities of globalization and transnational identity in works that layer paint, photographic imagery, prints, and collage elements."

Sunil Amrith, 38, historian living in Cambridge, Mass.:

"Illustrating the role of centuries of transnational migration in the present-day social and cultural dynamics of South and Southeast Asia."

Greg Asbed, 54, human rights strategist living in Immokalee, Fla.:

"Transforming conditions for low-wage workers with a visionary model of worker-driven social responsibility."

Annie Baker, 36, playwright living in New York City:

"Mining the minutiae of how we speak, act, and relate to one another and the absurdity and tragedy that result from the limitations of language."

Regina Barzilay, 46, computer scientist living in Cambridge, Mass.:

"Developing machine learning methods that enable computers to process and analyze vast amounts of human language data."

Dawoud Bey, 63, photographer and educator living in Chicago:

"Using an expansive approach to photography that creates new spaces of engagement within cultural institutions, making them more meaningful to and representative of the communities in which they are situated."

Emmanuel Candès, 47, mathematician and statistician living in Stanford, Calif.:

"Exploring the limits of signal recovery and matrix completion from incomplete data sets with implications for high-impact applications in multiple fields."

Jason De León, 40, anthropologist living in Ann Arbor, Mich.:

"Combining ethnographic, forensic, and archaeological evidence to bring to light the human consequences of immigration policy at the U.S.–Mexico border."

Rhiannon Giddens, 40, singer, instrumentalist and songwriter living in Greensboro, N.C.:

"Reclaiming African American contributions to folk and country music and bringing to light new connections between music from the past and the present."

Nikole Hannah-Jones, 41, journalist living in New York City:

"Chronicling the persistence of racial segregation in American society, particularly in education, and reshaping national conversations around education reform."

Cristina Jiménez Moreta, 33, social justice organizer living in Washington, D.C.:

"Changing public perceptions of immigrant youth and playing a critical role in shaping the debate around immigration policy."

Taylor Mac, 44, theater artist living in New York City:

"Engaging audiences as active participants in works that dramatize the power of theater as a space for building community."

Rami Nashashibi, 45, community leader living in Chicago:

"Confronting the challenges of poverty and disinvestment in urban communities through a Muslim-led civic engagement effort that bridges race, class, and religion."

Viet Thanh Nguyen, 46, fiction writer and cultural critic living in Los Angeles:

"Challenging popular depictions of the Vietnam War and exploring the myriad ways that war lives on for those it has displaced."

Kate Orff, 45, landscape architect living in New York City:

"Designing adaptive and resilient urban habitats and encouraging residents to be active stewards of the ecological systems underlying our built environment."

Trevor Paglen, 43, artist and geographer living in Berlin:

"Documenting the hidden operations of covert government projects and examining the ways that human rights are threatened in an era of mass surveillance."

Betsy Levy Paluck, 39, psychologist living in Princeton, N.J.:

"Unraveling how social networks and norms influence our interactions with one another and identifying interventions that can change destructive behavior."

Derek Peterson, 46, historian living in Ann Arbor, Mich.:

"Reshaping our understanding of African colonialism and nationalism in studies that foreground East African intellectual production."

Damon Rich, 42, designer and urban planner living in Newark, N.J.:

"Creating vivid and witty strategies to design and build places that are more democratic and accountable to their residents."

Stefan Savage, 48, computer scientist living in La Jolla, Calif.:

"Identifying and addressing the technological, economic, and social vulnerabilities underlying internet security challenges and cybercrime."

Yuval Sharon, 37, opera director and producer living in Los Angeles:

"Expanding how opera is performed and experienced through immersive, multisensory, and mobile productions that are infusing a new vitality into the genre."

Tyshawn Sorey, 37, composer and musician living in Middletown, Conn.:

"Assimilating and transforming ideas from a broad spectrum of musical idioms and defying distinctions between genres, composition, and improvisation in a singular expression of contemporary music."

Gabriel Victora, 40, immunologist living in New York City:

"Investigating acquired, or adaptive, immunity and the mechanisms by which organisms' antibody-based responses to infection are fine-tuned."

Jesmyn Ward, 40, fiction writer living in DeLisle, Miss.:

"Exploring the enduring bonds of community and familial love among poor African Americans of the rural South against a landscape of circumscribed possibilities and lost potential."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: October 10, 2017 at 11:00 PM CDT
Using information supplied by the MacArthur Foundation, a previous version of this post incorrectly placed Jesmyn Ward in New Orleans. In fact, Ward lives in DeLisle, Miss.
Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.