Three Yale Affiliates Receive MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grants

A faculty member at the Yale School of Drama and two alumni of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences were among the 25 individuals nationwide who were named as 2008 MacArthur Fellows by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Often referred to as “genius grants,” MacArthur Fellowships provide $500,000 no-strings-attached support in recognition of individuals’ creativity, originality and potential to make important contributions in the future. The grants allow recipients to accelerate their current activities or take their work in new directions. According to the MacArthur Foundation, the unusual level of independence afforded to the fellows underscores the spirit of free dom intrinsic to creative endeavors.

The three Yale affiliates who were honored this year are Jennifer Tipton, professor (adjunct) of design at the drama school and lighting design adviser at the Yale Repertory Theatre; writer Chimamanda Adichie, M.A. 2008; and anthropologist Stephen Houston, Ph.D. 2007.

Jennifer Tipton

In honoring Tipton, an internationally renowned lighting designer, the MacArthur Foundation described her as “one of the most versatile designers working today” and said that her “distinctive designs have redefined the relationship between lighting and performance.”

The award citation also noted that Tipton “pioneered the use of white light in theatre and dance.” In the latter genre, for which she is best known, the citation noted, “Tipton’s painterly lighting evokes mood and defines and sculpts movement.” Her strategic use of white light and manufactured fog in two Twyla Tharp works, “In the Upper Room” (1986) and “Fait Accompli” (1983), allowed the dancers to “materialize, seemingly out of nowhere, only to disappear into a void, thereby reinforcing the progression of the dance as it advances and recedes, explodes and implodes,” said the citation. Similarly, it continued, her “subtle, shifting lighting for Eugene O’Neill’s ‘A Moon for the Misbegotten’ (2005) gave visual support to the play’s delicate balance between vitality and deep sadness. …

“As a committed teacher, Tipton has influenced a generation of lighting designers, and her dramatic imagination continues to push the visual boundaries of lighting design in new and exciting directions,” the citation concluded.

In addition to Twyla Tharp Dance, Tipton has designed lighting for such dance companies as the New York City Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre and the Paul Taylor Dance Company. She has also worked on theatrical productions at such venues as St. Ann’s Warehouse, The Public Theater and the Metropolitan Opera, among many others. Her work on Broadway has garnered her two Tony Awards - for “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway” (1989) and “The Cherry Orchard” (1977) - and an additional two Tony nominations, among numerous other honors.

Tipton has been at the Yale School of Drama and Yale Rep since 1984. Her most recent productions at the latter include “Dance of the Holy Ghosts” (2006), “Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella” (2002) and “Richard III” (2000).

Chimamanda Adichie

A native of Nigeria, Adichie writes about the social and political events in the post-colonial era there, most recently in her novel “Half of a Yellow Son” (2006). “In humanizing the Biafran tragedy,” the MacArthur citation notes, “Adichie’s novel has enriched conversation about the war within Nigeria while also offering insight into the circumstances that lead to ethnic conflict. A writer of great promise, Adichie’s powerful rendering of the Nigerian experience is enlightening audiences both in her homeland and around the world.”

Adichie’s other works include the novel “Purple Hibiscus” (2003) and short stories that have appeared in such publications as the New Yorker, Granta and the Virginia Quarterly Review.

Stephen Houston

Houston is an anthropologist, archaeologist and epigrapher who is currently on the faculty of Brown University as the Dupee Family Professor of Social Science and a professor in its Department of Anthropology.

Houston has worked on the excavations of several major Mayan cities, including the ancient city of Piedras Negras in Guatemala, which had not been explored since its initial discovery more than 60 years ago. His work there has promoted “a significant revision of the history of the city’s development,” said the MacArthur Foundation, adding, “By considering Mayan script in the context of both ancient and modern civilizations, he has proposed new arguments, as well, about how writing systems function and how they originate, evolve and expire.”

Houston is the author of numerous articles and co-author of the books “The Memory of Bones” (2006) and “Royal Courts of the Ancient Maya” (2001), among many other publications.

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