Twenty-four lucky “geniuses” just got a tidy pile of money–in the form of a no-strings-attached grant of $625,000–to encourage and inspire them toward creative breakthroughs. They are the 2017 fellows of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and they are a diverse group ranging from 33-year-old Cristina Jiménez Moreta, an organizer and immigration reform advocate, and Rhiannon Giddens, a Grammy winner who also happens to be the first black female to win the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass, to Greg Asbed, a human rights strategist working to improve conditions for low-wage workers.
Among the academics is MIT’s Regina Barzilay, whose research in natural language processing ranges from deciphering dead languages to applying machine learning methods to oncology and drug design for early detection and treatment of cancer.
There is no application process for the grant. Rather, fellows are nominated by a network and the finalists are selected by an anonymous committee. The grant money is dispensed over five years. A New York Times report noted that only individuals are eligible for fellowships, yet some of the winners said they were thinking of ways to share the money and prestige to benefit their collaborators and inspire others.
Viet Thanh Nguyen, a novelist, put it this way: “When you try something new it can be humiliating. Hopefully, that’s something the MacArthur will enable: to continue risking humiliation.”