Four African Americans were among the 23 fellows who have been awarded the 2016 “genius” grants from the MacArthur Foundation.

To qualify for the grants, fellows must demonstrate “exceptional creativity” and the potential for important future advances. The no-strings-attached grants of $625,000 distributed over five years “celebrates and inspires the creative potential of individuals” at a time when they can make an impact. The diverse group of this year’s fellows include, among others, a theoretical computer scientist, linguist, writer, cultural preservationist, sculptors, playwrights and microbiologist.

Artist Joyce J. Scott at her home in Baltimore, Maryland, Monday, September 12, 2016. (Credit: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Artist Joyce J. Scott at her home in Baltimore, Maryland, Monday, September 12, 2016. (Credit: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

“While our communities, our nation, and our world face both historic and emerging challenges, these 23 extraordinary individuals give us ample reason for hope,” said MacArthur President Julia Stasch in a statement. “They are breaking new ground in areas of public concern, in the arts, and in the sciences, often in unexpected ways. Their creativity, dedication, and impact inspire us all.”

Joyce J. Scott, a Baltimore-based a jewelry maker and sculptor, is among the African Americans being recognized this year. The 67-year-old was praised for using her craft, particularly beadwork, to ventilate issues relating to racism and sexism. She has, for example, done projects depicting lynching, domestic violence ending in murder and President Obama surrounded by faces expressing joy, fear, and anger.

Claudia Rankine, 2016 MacArthur Fellow, New York, New York, September 7, 2016

Claudia Rankine, Poet and Yale University Professor. 2016 MacArthur Fellow, New York, New York, September 7, 2016. (Credit: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Claudia Rankine, 53, a poet and Yale University professor is also being honored for “illuminating the emotional and psychic tensions that mark the experiences of many living in twenty-first-century America.” In the course of five poetry collections, Rankine employs varying forms of poetic expression to examine both personal and public subjects such as grief, motherhood, discrimination against African Americans and the gamut of psychological responses manifested by American society after 9/11. Additionally, Rankine has become an integral voice in current discussions about racial violence through essays, lectures and short films.

Scott and Rankine are joined by 31-year-old playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins of New York. The playwright is known for provocative plays that draw from contemporary and historical theatrical genres to examine multi-layered issues around identity, family, class, and race. 

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Kellie Jones, Art Historian and Curator. Associate Professor, Department of Art History and Archaeology Columbia University, New York, NY. (Credit: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Finally, the work of Kellie Jones, an art historian and curator and associate professor in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, is being supported with a MacArthur grant. Jones, 57, was praised for bringing the work of contemporary artists throughout the African Diaspora to the fore. From large-scale museums, to scholarly books and articles, Jones has used her research to introduce shine a light on forgotten or overlooked Black artists and help make a space for them in the modern artistic landscape.

 

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO