Faculty, alumni win MacArthur Fellowships in recognition of their creativity

Six individuals with ties to Yale, including two members of the Department of English faculty, have been honored with 2016 MacArthur Fellowships for their creative contributions and talent. They are among 23 individuals to win the prestigious award, commonly referred to as the “genius” award.

Poet Claudia Rankine, the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry, and journalist Sarah Stillman B.A./M.A. ’06, lecturer in English, both joined the faculty this fall. In addition to Stillman, the alumni to win MacArthur Fellows are human rights lawyer Ahilan Arulanantham ’99 J.D., art historian and curator Kellie Jones ’99 Ph.D., video artist Mary Reid Kelley ’09 M.F.A., and composer Julia Wolfe ’86 M.M.

Along with these six, playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a 2016 winner of Yale’s Windham-Campbell Prize, was also named a MacArthur Fellow.

The “no strings attached” award comes with a stipend of $625,000, paid out to the fellows in quarterly installments over five years.

“While our communities, our nation, and our world face both historic and emerging challenges, these 23 extraordinary individuals give us ample reason for hope,” said MacArthur Foundation President Julia Stasch of this year’s winners. “They are breaking new ground in areas of public concern, in the arts, and in the sciences, often in unexpected ways. Their creativity, dedication, and impact inspire us all.”

Biographies of this year’s fellows — with accompanying videos about them — can be found on the MacArthur Foundation website. Here’s how the foundation characterized, in part, the contributions of the Yale affiliates.

Claudia Rankine is a poet illuminating the emotional and psychic tensions that mark the experiences of many living in 21st-century America.”

Sarah Stillman is a long-form journalist providing new and compelling perspectives on social injustices in stories of people usually invisible to mainstream reporting.”

Ahilan Arulanantham is an attorney working to secure the right to due process for individuals facing deportation.”

Kellie Jones is an art historian and curator deepening our understanding of contemporary art of the African diaspora and securing its place in the canons of modern and contemporary art.”

Mary Reid Kelley is an artist who makes arresting, playful, and erudite videos that explore the condition of women throughout history.”

Julia Wolfe is a composer who combines influences from folk, classical, and rock genres in works that are grounded in historical and legendary narratives.”

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is a playwright drawing from a range of contemporary and historical theatrical genres to engage frankly with complicated issues around identity, family, class, and race.” (His play “War” had its world premiere at the Yale Repertory Theatre.)

A group of external nominators brought the fellows to the attention of the foundation. The nominations were evaluated by an independent selection committee composed of leaders in the arts, sciences, and humanities professions, and from the for-profit and non-profit communities. After a multi-step review, the committee made its recommendations to the president and board of directors of the MacArthur Foundation.

Upon hearing that she had won a grant, alumna Reid Kelley reflected on how she was influenced by her time at Yale, where she was a critic at the School of Art in 2012. “Yale was both tough and warm,” she recalled. “I still look at my notebooks from those years to see if there are any books or films that someone (as likely to be a peer as faculty) told me about, that I haven’t looked at yet. There are still many threads to follow from my time there, and it shows how rich a community it is — treasure in the studio next door, in the next studio visit, in the undergrad class you attend on a whim, in the relationships that make you a better person and a better artist.”

YaleNews hopes to catch up with the other Yale winners down the road.