Every year, the MacArthur Foundation awards the so-called “genius grants” to people of talent who are free to create works of art and/or intellectual ability without worrying about paying the mortgage, buying groceries, or making their car payment. The MacArthur Fellowship Program is intended to honor the brightest and the best by investing in their future. Past honorees have included writers, scientists, historians, musicians, artists, and civil rights activists – people like composer Manual-Lin Miranda, drummer Max Roach, astrophysicist David Spergel, poet Sir Derek Walcott, and Native American rights activist Patricia Locke.
In 2020, twenty-one people were granted MacArthur Fellows, including science fiction author J. K. Jemisin, who won the Hugo for Best Novelette for Emergency Skin.
CNN reported that a trio of female African-American writers were among this year’s twenty-one winners, Jacqueline Woodson, N.K. Jemisin and Tressie McMillan Cottom were among 21 winners of the 2020 MacArthur Foundation “genius grants.” Woodson writes children’s literature. Cottom is the author of Thick, a collection of essays, and Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy.
N. K. Jemisin won the Hugo Award for Best Novel from 2016 to 2018 for each of her books in the “Broken Earth” trilogy. Her most recent novel, The City We Became, imagines a New York City in which human avatars represent each city borough and features LGBTQ and non-White main characters.” She is the first author, Black or white, male or female to win the Hugo for Best Novel three years in a row, for all three books of a trilogy. The Fifth Season won the Hugo for Best Novel in 2016, The Obelisk Gate won in 2017, In 2018 The Stone Sky won both the Hugo for Best Novel and the Locus Award for Best Fantasy. Her first novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, won both the Locus Award for Best First Novel and the Sense of Gender Award in 2011.
Cecilia Conrad, the MacArthur Fellows managing director, praised the 2020 class of winners :”In the midst of civil unrest, a global pandemic, natural disasters, and conflagrations, this group of 21 exceptionally creative individuals offers a moment for celebration. .. They are asking critical questions, developing innovative technologies and public policies, enriching our understanding of the human condition, and producing works of art that provoke and inspire us.” Other winners this year were Native American playwright Larissa FastHorse, Chinese filmmaker Nanfu Wang, Mexican author Cristina Rivera Garza, and biological chemist Mohammad R. Seyedsayamdost.