Five Black “Geniuses” Awarded MacArthur Foundation Fellowships

The Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation has announced the selection of 25 individuals in this year’s class of MacArthur Fellows. The honors, frequently referred to as the “Genius Awards,” include a $625,000 stipend over the next five years which the individuals can use as they see fit.

Fellows are chosen for their “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits.” The goal of the awards is to “encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations” without the burden of having to worry about their financial situation.

This year, five of the 25 MacArthur Fellows are Black. Three have current ties to academia.

William J. Barber II is a pastor and social justice advocate building a broad-based grassroots movement grounded in moral tenets of faith-based communities and the United States Constitution to confront racial and economic inequities in America today. He was president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and has been a member of the national board of the NAACP since 2005. Dr. Barber is also a distinguished visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He holds a bachelor’s degree from North Carolina Central University, a master of divinity degree from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and a doctor of ministry degree from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

Titus Kaphar is an artist whose paintings, sculptures, and installations explore the intersection of art, history, and civic agency. He is the founder and president of NXTHVN, an art space based in New Haven, Connecticut, which will open soon. It will provide studio spaces and residencies for artists and curators to develop and realize new creative initiatives in keeping with the organization’s mission to cultivate an artistic community in a city plagued by deep and long-standing socioeconomic divides. Kaphar holds a bachelor of fine arts degree from San Jose State University in California and a master of fine arts degree from Yale University.

John Keene is a fiction writer exploring the ways in which historical narratives shape contemporary lives while simultaneously re-envisioning these narratives from the perspectives of those whose voices have been suppressed. Currently, he serves as professor and chair of the department of African American and African studies and as a professor in the department of English at the Newark campus of Rutgers University in New Jersey. He previously held faculty positions at Brown University and Northwestern University, among others. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a master of fine arts degree from New York University.

Dominique Morisseau is a playwright whose works portray the lives of individuals and communities grappling with economic and social changes, both current and historical. She has a background as an actor and spoken-word artist. Currently, she serves as a Residency Five Playwright at the Signature Theatre in New York City. She holds a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Michigan.

Okwui Okpokwasili is a performer, choreographer, and writer creating multidisciplinary performance pieces that draw viewers into the interior lives of women of color, particularly those of African and African American women. The child of immigrants from Nigeria, Okpokwasili was born and raised in the Bronx, New York, and the histories of these places and the girls and women who inhabit them feature prominently in much of her work. Currently, she serves as a Hodder Fellow at the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale University.

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