Branden Jacobs-Jenkins was alone in his Brooklyn apartment when an unfamiliar number with a Chicago area code flashed across his cellphone screen. He answered, prepared to scold a telemarketer.
But it was a representative of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, informing the rising young playwright that he was among the 23 winners of the 2016 MacArthur Foundation fellowships announced Thursday — a highly coveted distinction, widely dubbed the “genius grant,” that comes with $625,000.
“I thought I was having a psychotic break for a moment — well, for many moments, actually,” Jacobs-Jenkins recalled this week, laughing. The 31-year-old D.C. native wandered outside in a daze; when he ran into his college roommate, he asked his friend to examine his phone and confirm that the call had actually happened. He still couldn’t believe it was true.
Similar calls went out across the country this month to this year’s crop of what the foundation calls “extraordinary individuals” — among them Kellie Jones, 57, a Columbia University art historian credited with bringing the work of under-recognized black artists into the canons of modern art, and Victoria Orphan, 44, a geobiologist who studies the processes that shape the climate, and Anne Basting, 51, a theater artist who founded TimeSlips, a project that uses storytelling and creative therapy to improve the lives of elderly people with dementia. Read more