Comics creators Gene Luen Yang and Lauren Redniss are among 23 people named 2016 fellows of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The prestigious award, commonly referred to as a MacArthur “genius grant,” comes with a $625,000 cash prize distributed quarterly over five years, with no strings attached.
First awarded in 1981, the prize is presented annually to 20 to 40 individuals in the fields of arts, humanities, science and public issues. The MacArthur Foundation views the fellowship not as a reward for past accomplishments, but rather “an investment in a person’s originality, insight and potential.”
Yang, who now writes DC Comics’ “New Super-Man,” has spent his career as a creator and an educator using comic books as a tool for learning. Currently serving as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, 43-year-old cartoonist earned widespread acclaim with his graphic novels “American Born Chines” and “Boxers & Saints.” He’s also the writer of “Secret Coders,” a series that introduces young readers to computer coding.
Redniss combines graphic art, written text and printmaking to create immersive stories about historical and scientific subjects, from the life of Marie Curie in her book “Radioactive” to the role of weather in human events in “Thunder and Lightning.” She’s an assistant professor in the School of Art, Media and Technology at Parsons, the New School for Design.
Talking with the Los Angeles Times, Yang described his shock at learning he’d received a genius grant. “It was totally mind-blowing to me — it was awesome,” he said. “It felt like it was out of left field, but in the best way possible.” He already has a few ideas for how to spend the money, including sending his children to college, hiring an intern to give upcoming cartoonists a means to break into the industry, and to finance programs as the Library Congress’ ambassador for young people’s literature.
Yang and Redniss aren’t the first comics creators to be named MacArthur fellows. Ben Katchor was the first, in 2000, followed by Alison Bechdel in 2014. Journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates received a genius grant in 2015, just a week after he was named as the writer of Marvel’s relaunched “Black Panther.”
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