Poet, whose work has tackled the everyday racism faced by black Americans, plans to use the money to found a Racial Imaginary Institute
Claudia Rankine, whose award-winning poetry collection Citizen explores the stories of black Americans encountering everyday racism, has been awarded a MacArthur genius grant worth $625,000 (475,000).
Praised as a critical voice in current conversations about racial violence, Rankine is one of 23 people chosen by the MacArthur Foundation as a 2016 fellow. The fellowships come with a stipend of $625,000, paid out over the next five years, and are intended to allow the recipients to exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society.
In an interview with the MacArthur foundation, Rankine said that Citizen began as a response to events happening in American culture, with the first piece written immediately after Hurricane Katrina. I recorded all of the CNN coverage and was fascinated by how racism coloured the reporting. After that, I began to respond to events that caught the public imagination mostly things like police shooting of unarmed black men and other pieces of blatant injustice that clearly were tied to racism, she said.
Rankine told Time magazine that she intended to use the grant to set up a Racial Imaginary Institute, which would enable creative thinkers to come together in a kind of laboratory environment to talk about the making of art and culture and the dismantling of white dominance.
What seemed, before the MacArthur, like this thing that we wanted to do but which seemed more abstract, suddenly has come more into focus, she said.
What we know is that for many white people, black people are coupled with criminality in their imagination. Thats an equation for the white imagination. And they cant get beyond it. And part of the reason I believe they cant get beyond it is because they dont see the construction of it. I think we are in need of an institute that does the work of investigating and bringing forward those things that have been made absent or erased inside the culture around white dominance.
Alongside a sculptor and a human rights lawyer, a microbiologist and a jewellery maker, the MacArthur Foundation also chose the writer Maggie Nelson to be a recipient of its grant this year. Nelson, author of the genre-bending memoir The Argonauts, said she wept when she was told the news.
It just seemed incredible, something I would just never have imagined obviously itll be very transformative for my work and my family, said the writer, who was praised by the foundation for forging a new mode of nonfiction that transcends the divide between the personal and the intellectual and renders pressing issues of our time into portraits of day-to-day lived experience.
Graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang was also named as one of 2016s MacArthur fellows. The author of comics including American-Born Chinese, Boxers and Saints and Secret Coders, Yang was, said the foundation, leading the way in bringing diverse characters to childrens and young adult literature and confirming comics place as an important creative and imaginative force within literature and art.
The foundation also selected New Yorker staff writer Sarah Stillman, composer Julia Wolfe, theatre artist and educator Anne Basting and playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. At just 31, the Princeton-educated Jacobs-Jenkins has made a name for himself as an inventive, fresh theatre writer. Two of his works tied for Obie Awards for Best American Play and his play An Octoroon was a finalist for The Edward M Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History. His works include Neighbors, in which a family of minstrels in blackface moves in next to a contemporary mixed-race family, Appropriate, where a white family discovers its racist past, and Gloria, about a group of catty editorial assistants at a Manhattan magazine whose lives change completely one random day.
MacArthur president Julia Stasch said the 23 extraordinary individuals chosen by the foundation give us ample reason for hope while our communities, our nation and our world face both historic and emerging challenges.
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, Stasch said.
Previous recipients of MacArthur grants include the graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel, the journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates, and the novelist Aleksandar Hemon.
The 2016 MacArthur fellows
Ahilan Arulanantham human rights lawyer
Daryl Baldwin linguist and cultural preservationist
Anne Basting theatre artist and educator
Vincent Fecteau sculptor
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins playwright
Kellie Jones art historian and curator
Subhash Khot theoretical computer scientist
Josh Kun cultural historian
Maggie Nelson writer
Dianne Newman microbiologist
Victoria Orphan geobiologist
Manu Prakash physical biologist and inventor
Jos A. Quionez financial services innovator
Claudia Rankine poet
Lauren Redniss artist and writer
Mary Reid Kelley video artist
Rebecca Richards-Kortum bioengineer
Joyce J Scott jewellery maker and sculptor
Sarah Stillman long-form journalist
Bill Thies computer scientist
Julia Wolfe composer
Gene Luen Yang graphic novelist
Jin-Quan Yu synthetic chemist
Read more: www.theguardian.com