Two Novelists and a Playwright Among This Year's Annual MacArthur "Genius" Fellows

from left to right: Annie Baker, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Jesmyn Ward
from left to right: Annie Baker, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Jesmyn Ward | photos courtesy of the Pulitzer Board and National Book Foundation

Books and Digest Editor

Annie Baker, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Jesmyn Ward were included among a list of 24 practitioners of arts and sciences.

The annual MacArther fellowship, awarded by the eponymous Chicago-based non-profit investment foundation, has announced its 2017 fellows. Among the most prestigious awards in America, the fellowship honors a list of outstanding practitioners of the arts and sciences who approach their discipline with “originality, insight, and potential.” The award, which is colloquially dubbed “the genius grant,” notably comes with a no-strings attached $625,000 endowment. Of the 24 fellows this year, three fall into the categories of literary and dramatic arts. We highlight them here.

Courtesy of the Pulitzer Board

Pulitzer-Prize winning Annie Baker has shaken up the theater world with her darkly American plays, including The Flick, about three movie theater employees; John, about a couple on the rocks spending a last ditch holiday in a haunted house; and The Antipodes, about a team of professional brainstormers. Baker first won recognition with The Flick, her sixth play, which won her the Pulitzer at only the age of 33. Now at 36, she has gone on to be one of America’s most accoladed playwrights, with her dramas now premiering at New York’s prestigious Signature Theater. Baker also teaches playwriting at NYU and is third youngest fellow this year.

Courtesy of the Pulitzer Board

Fellow pulitzer Viet Thanh Nguyen famously had his award-winning debut novel The Sympathizer—about a North Vietnamese mole who gets sent to America and later becomes involved in a Platoon-like film shoot—turned down by 11 of the 12 publishers, finally finding a home at the celebrated Grove Press. It was a fortuitous selection. After winning the Pulitzer for The Sympathizer, and running a gamut of other prestigious literary awards, Nguyen who is 46, published the short story collection The Refugees, which collected many of his short prose in the years leading up to his debut novel. He teaches at the University of Southern California.

Courtesy of the National Book Foundation

National Book Award Winner Jesmyn Ward was enrolled in nursing school when her first novel Where the Line Bleeds was accepted by a publisher. Though it received solid reviews, it wasn’t until the release of her sophomore work Salvage the Bones, about the upheaval of a black family during Hurricane Katrina, that she turned heads for American readers. Salvage the Bones went on to win the National Book Award in 2011. Ward’s accolades haven’t let up since. In 2013, her memoir Men We Reaped was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and in 2016, she edited The Fire This Time, an anthology of race-related essays. Her newest novel Sing, Unburied, Sing, charts the history of a Mississippi family through three generations, and is currently shortlisted for another National Book Award. She teaches at Tulane University.

The full list of fellows can be found here.

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