Twenty-four people—including bestselling writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and playwright and actor of the Broadway hit musical Hamilton Lin-Manuel Miranda—have been named as recipients of the MacArthur Fellows Program, commonly referred to as "genius grants."
Other winners include painter Nichole Eisenmann, whose art comments on the role of gender and sexuality in society; dancer/choreographer Michelle Dorance, commended for her innovative take on tap and contemporary dance; and neuroscientist Beth Stevens, whose work on neuron communication has changed previous beliefs of how the brain develops.
"These 24 delightfully diverse MacArthur Fellows are shedding light and making progress on critical issues, pushing the boundaries of their fields, and improving our world in imaginative, unexpected ways," Julia Stash, president of the MacArthur Foundation, said in a statement on the organization's website. "Their work, their commitment, and their creativity inspire us all."
Each winner receives $625,000 over the course of five years, no strings attached.
"We take ‘no strings’ quite seriously," Cecilia A. Conrad, the foundation’s managing director, told the New York Times. "They don’t have to report to us. They can use the funds in any way they see fit." For some winners, like writer Ben Lerner, this means childcare to pursue work in their area of interest. For others, like Miranda, it means charitable contributions to organizations like Graham Windham—which serves needy children and families and was founded in 1806 by Alexander Hamilton's wife, Elizabeth—and the Mariposa Center, a group benefiting girls in the Dominican Republic.
Regardless of how they spend the money, the fellows all feel a sense of responsibility for being labeled a "genius" worthy of the honor. "It puts a different kind of pressure," Coates said. “You are called to go out and do something great, to do something for the ages."