The MacArthur Foundation has named 21 individuals that comprise the 2020 class of its Fellows Program, known more informally as the "Genius Grants." As in years past, the new list spans writers, artists, scientists, and more. The grants each consist of a "no strings attached" stipend of $625,000, distributed over five years as an investment in their potential and development of future works.
Among the recipients is playwright Larissa FastHorse, whose works include The Thanksgiving Play (in which a group of white teaching artists scramble to create an ambitious, "woke" Thanksgiving pageant that also celebrates Native American Heritage Month). She is the first Native American writer to be featured on the top 10 list of plays produced in the country.
"To me, theatre is life, theatre is everywhere and everything, and all human beings participate in theatre," the California-based writer said. "From the beginning of my career, it's been important to find ways to include Indigenous people and populations in my work. Creating works that not only tell Indigenous stories and use Indigenous ways of thinking, but they also provide greater access to them to have agency over the way that they're portrayed." In line with this ethos, she is the co-founder of the consulting firm Indigenous Direction.
The 2020 fellows also include jazz composer-singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, artist Ralph Lemon, writer Jacqueline Woodson, documentarian Nanfu Wang, sociologist Forrest Stuart, chemist Mohammad R. Seyedsayamdost, experimental physicist Monika Schleier-Smith, fiction author Cristina Rivera Garza, theorist and poet Fred Moten, historian Natalia Molina, law scholar Thomas Wilson Mitchell, biologist Polina V. Lishko, speculative fiction writer N. K. Jemisin, anthropologist Mary L. Gray, environmental health advocate Catherine Coleman Flowers, neuroscientist Damien Fair, geneticist Nels Elde, chemical engineer Paul Dauenhauer, sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom, and econometrician Isaiah Andrews.
Past theatre artists to receive the honor include directors Annie Dorsen and Yuval Sharon, composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, set designer Mimi Lien, and playwrights Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Dominique Morisseau, Taylor Mac, and Annie Baker.