This year’s “Genius grant” winners have been announced. The MacArthur grant awards $500,000, “no strings attached” to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” Alongside, scientists, artists and scholars are some newly minted geniuses with a literary focus. This year’s literary geniuses are:
Junot Díaz is no stranger to readers of The Millions. His novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was tops in our reader poll for the best books of the first decade of the millennium (and #11 among our panelists. Martha Southgate told us why.) It’s also a Millions Hall of Famer. Díaz first came to our attention with his incredible debut collection, Drown, and he recently returned with another hotly anticipated collection, This Is How You Lose Her, which was recently a jumping off point for an essay exploring Díaz’s “niftiest literary trick.” Finally, Díaz once graced these pages, sharing unique reading recommendations as a participant in our annual Year in Reading series.
Dinaw Mengestu has two books under his belt: The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and How to Read the Air. Mengestu became known to a wider audience after being named to the New Yorker’s widely discussed “20 under 40” list in 2010. Mengestu, who was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia but moved to the United States when he was two years old, was also one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” authors in 2007.
Journalist David Finkel is best known for his work as a staff writer at the Washington Post, where he won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006. He is also the author of the book The Good Soldiers, which is an account of his time embedded with a division of Army Rangers in 2007 as part of the “Surge” meant to turn the tide in the Iraq War. That book won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, which is given to a book that exemplifies, “literary grace, a commitment to serious research and social concern.”