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Five African Americans named ‘genius’ grant winners by MacArthur Foundation

In their own way, each is working toward increasing understanding of black histories and communities

10:02 AMThe MacArthur Foundation announced its “genius” grant winners Sept. 25. Formally known as MacArthur Fellows, this year’s recipients are artists, writers, scientists and academics who have demonstrated “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” Out of the 26 fellows in the 2019 class, five are African American:

  • Emmanuel Pratt, 42, is an urban designer who lives and works in Chicago. He uses a resident-driven approach to community development that incorporates agriculture, education and design. His goal is to turn neglected urban neighborhoods into places of growth and vitality.
  • Saidiya Hartman, 58, works as a literary scholar and cultural historian at Columbia University. She studies the way slavery impacts modern American life and works to document the lives of individuals who were systemically left out of historical archives.
  • Walter Hood, 61, is an Oakland-based landscape and public artist at the University of California, Berkeley. He infuses black history, ecological sustainability and social justice into his work, which includes Nauck Town Square in Arlington County, Virginia, and the upcoming International African American Museum (2020) in Charleston, South Carolina.
  • Cameron Rowland, 30, lives in Queens, New York. His work highlights the institutions, systems and policies that contribute to systemic racism and economic inequality. Rowland focuses on the display of objects and documents that underscore the legacies of racial capitalism and forms of exploitation that are part of many aspects of daily life.
  • Kelly Lytle Hernandez, 45, is based in Los Angeles. The historian works at the University of California, where she teaches African American studies. Her book, Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol, has been called the “first significant academic history” of the agency. Her work connects racialized incarceration and immigrant detention practices with the U.S. labor system.

The work of each of these fellows, though in different fields, is geared toward increasing understanding of black histories and communities. MacArthur Fellows receive $625,000 over five years. This award is considered “no strings attached.” They may use the money to advance their current work, start a new project or change the direction of their careers.

MacArthur Foundation president John Palfrey said in a statement: “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.”

The foundation, which John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur established in 1970, has dispersed nearly $7 billion in the United States and 40 countries around the world. The grants are awarded annually to 20 to 30 people.

More than 1,000 people have received this prestigious award since 1981. Previous recipients included poets Natalie Diaz and Claudia Rankine, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates.