Here are this year’s recipients of the MacArthur ‘Genius Grant 2022’

A plastic waste management specialist, artist, musician, computer scientist, and poet-ornithologist who advocates for Black people in nature are among this year’s 25 winners of the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grants dubbed “Genius Grants that honor discipline-changing and society-changing people whose work provides inspiration and insight.

The Chicago-based foundation announced Wednesday that it has increased the unconditional award amount each honoree receives from $625,000 to $800,000 over five years. Fellows do not have to prove to the foundation what they are using the money for.

“I hope they will continue their courage and provocation to inspire us to new places of understanding and inspiration,” said Marlies Carruth, director of the MacArthur Fellows program.

The interdisciplinary conceptual artist Tavares Strachan. Photo by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Jenna Jambeck, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Georgia, received the award for achievements such as calculating the amount of plastic produced since 1950 and noting that 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. She received a call from the foundation after picking up her children one day in September.

“I was just totally overwhelmed with emotion,” Jambeck said in an interview.

Jambeck, 48, has been conducting surveys on the Ganges and Mississippi rivers to get baseline data on plastic pollution and to document the systems that produce the plastic, treat it as trash and eventually dump it into water. The excitement and challenge of waste management caught her attention while she was in college in Gainesville, Florida, witnessing a lengthy debate over whether to expand a landfill or move waste to another county.

“I was just hooked because, you know, that’s something we create every day. We have to deal with it,” she said, “but everyone wants this material to be as far away from them as possible.”

The foundation selects grantees through a multi-stage process in which anonymous reviewers nominate and review potential candidates, usually over the years, with the intention of recognizing people who are exceptionally creative in their work. The grantees are not involved in their selection and receive a call out of the blue, Carruth said.

J. Drew Lanham, professor of forestry and environmental protection at Clemson University, said the fellowship gives him intellectual and creative freedom. Lanham, 57, is also a poet, ornithologist, black nature activist, author of memoirs — in other words, a label-defying person.


Ikue Mori, electronic music composer and performer. Photo by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

“I even had friends and family and I’m sure co-workers are like, ‘Well, do you really work? What do you do? How does that have anything to do with ornithology or how does that have anything to do with you being a college professor?’” he said of Edisto Island, South Carolina.

His writings include a 2013 essay “9 Rules for Black Birders” and a memoir that traces the beginning of his love affair with birds and nature to his childhood on his family’s farm in South Carolina, which she married after his death lost his father.

Carruth said this class of grantees is optimistic about repairing citizens and that the foundation recognizes their work in the wake of the isolation, fear and disorientation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Many of the grantees delve into topics we thought we knew, she said, and approached them with new insights and perspectives, like Emily Wang, a doctor who started a network of clinics that help people out of prison treat community health workers.

Another fellow, Reuben Jonathan Miller, has spent years conducting ethnographic research on people’s lives after incarceration. His research includes his personal experiences as a volunteer chaplain at the Cook County Jail and the incarceration of his father and brother.

CLOCK: The barriers people face after incarceration

Other grantees include author, botanist and advocate for conservation through traditional Aboriginal knowledge, Robin Wall Kimmerer; the computer scientist Yejin Choi, who developed new ways to teach computers to understand language; Chicago-based artist and architect Amanda Williams; and mathematician June Huh, whose work bridges different parts of the field to prove long-standing conjectures.

The MacArthur Foundation reported a $9.4 billion endowment at the end of 2021 and said it had disbursed $273 million in grants and impact investing that year. The grant program accounted for $15.6 million of those grants for 2021, the foundation said.

Read the full list below

Jennifer Karlson40, Tucson, Arizona, sociologist whose research traces the evolution of gun culture in the United States

Paul Chan49, New York, artist and publisher who works with different media and draws on diverse cultural references to invite the viewer to reflect on the world.

Yejin Choi45, Seattle, Computer scientist who developed new methods to train computers to understand language and judge the intent of various modes of communication.

P Gabrielle Foreman58, University Park, Pennsylvania, a literary historian who co-founded an archive of black activism in the 19th century that collectively identified and collected long-scattered records.

Danna Freedman41, Cambridge, Massachusetts Synthetic inorganic chemist developing molecules with large storage and processing capacities.

Martha Gonzalez50, Claremont, California, musician, scholar and activist who has convened cross-border participatory performance and collaborations on social justice issues.

Heaven Hopinka38, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, artist and filmmaker whose abstract and documentary films showcase indigenous languages ​​and perspectives.

June Hm39, Princeton, New Jersey mathematician whose work bridges different parts of the field to prove long-standing conjectures.

Moriba Jah51, Austin, Texas, astrodynamicist who uses statistical analysis to examine data to better estimate the positions and trajectories of objects in Earth orbit.

Jenna Jambeck48, Athens, Georgia, Environmental engineer whose study of plastics in the environment facilitates community involvement in waste management.

Monica Kim44, Madison, Wisconsin, US foreign policy historian whose archival research in multiple languages ​​and original interviews reveal unspoken motivations and policy goals.

Robin Wall Kimmerer69, Syracuse, New York, Author, botanist, and advocate for environmental protection through traditional Native American knowledge.

Priti Krishtel44, Oakland, California, health attorney advocating reforms of the patent system to make access to treatment more equitable.

J Drew Lanham57, Clemson, South Carolina Ornithologist, naturalist and writer who champions Black people in nature and promotes connection with and exploration of the natural world.

Gravel Laymon48, Houston, Texas, writer whose fiction and nonfiction works question the internalization and repetition of violence by Black Americans.

Ruben Jonathan Miller46, Chicago, sociologist, criminologist, and social worker who studies the aftermath of incarceration, drawing on his personal experiences as a pastor and family member of inmates.

Ikue Mori68, New York, electronic music composer and performer whose work pushes the boundaries of electronic music creation by integrating live and pre-recorded sequences.

Steven Prohira35, Lawrence Kansas, physicist developing novel ways to detect and study subatomic particles that could reveal important information about the universe.

Tomeka Reid44, Chicago, jazz cellist and composer whose work draws on her community, forging unique combinations of instruments to reinterpret classical works and expand the expressive possibilities of cello improvisation.

Loretta J Ross69, Northampton, Massachusetts, reproductive justice and human rights advocate who envisions an end to racist reproductive politics and advocates for overcoming barriers to reproductive autonomy.

Steven Ruggles67, Minneapolis, a historical demographer who created and maintains the largest database of vital statistics in the world.

Tavares Strachan42, New York and Nassau, Bahamas, is an interdisciplinary conceptual artist who has achieved logistical feats while unearthing the stories of artists and leaders who have been marginalized in the past.

Emily Wang, 47New Haven, Connecticut, a family doctor and researcher who created a network of clinics staffed by community health workers and doctors to treat people released from prison.

Amanda Williams48, Chicago, artist and architect whose work explores the intersection of race and the built environment, inviting the community to reinvent their space.

Melanie Matchett Wood41, Cambridge, Massachusetts, mathematician whose statistical analyzes have helped answer questions about number theory and algebraic geometry.

Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits is supported by AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc.

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