One Yale professor and five alumni were named MacArthur Fellows, a prestigious honor for poets, journalists and other creators.
On Sept. 15, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced its annual recipients of the 2016 MacArthur Fellowships. Professor of poetry Claudia Rankine and five Yale alumni — Ahilan Arulanantham LAW ’99, Kelli Jones GRD ’99, Mary Reid Kelley ART ’09, Sarah Stillman ’06 and Julia Wolfe MUS ’86 — were among the 23 winners named. Each recipient will receive $625,000 over the course of five years to further their creative pursuits. The so-called MacArthur “Genius” Grant, which comes with “no strings attached,” according to the foundation’s website- — has only been awarded to 942 people.
“I was totally flabbergasted when I got the news — shocked, ecstatic and, most of all, tremendously grateful for the opportunity to invest more deeply in ambitious investigative work,” Stillman wrote in an email to the News. “It’s an incredible gift to have a vote of confidence not just in my reporting and writing on public policy issues, but also in the type of work The New Yorker still prizes, in a media landscape often starved for resources: that of immersive, deeply reported stories that require a lot of time and resources to pull off.”
Stillman, who received both her B.A. and M.A. in anthropology and graduated summa cum laude from Yale with a Marshall Scholarship, now works as a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. She has also written for other news outlets such as The Washington Post, The Nation and The New Republic. Most of her work involves long-form narratives about social injustices and giving voices to those who usually go unheard. Her writing has won her the George Polk Award, as well as the Hillman Prize.
Stillman is currently teaching a nonfiction writing class at Yale.
The MacArthur Foundation receives nominations from high-profile professionals in a variety of areas. The selection process is secretive: Both the selection committee members and nominators are anonymous. According to The New York Times, the fellowship does not inform nominees until they are named fellows. Winners usually receive an unexpected call a few weeks prior to the official announcement, which adds an element of surprise and elation to the process.
“When I met [Stillman] in 2005, it rapidly became apparent that [she] could do more, and do it better, than an ordinary mortal. She had published a book when she was in high school,” said English professor Anne Fadiman, who was also Stillman’s first English professor. “She’s one of the kindest and most generous people I know, always oriented toward others rather than toward herself. And I feel certain that will continue post-MacArthur.”
Rankine, who teaches a course that is cross-registered in English and African American Studies, was awarded the fellowship for her accomplishments in the field of poetry. She is most notably known for her works “The End of the Alphabet,” “Plot” and “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely.” Her most recent work, “Citizen,” reached critical acclaim for its discussion of racial tensions in 21st-century America.
The other recipients are accomplished in their respective fields: Arulanantham, director of advocacy and legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, has dedicated his career to protecting the rights of undocumented immigrants. Jones, who serves as an associate professor in Columbia University’s Department of Art History and Archaeology, has spent her career curating art from the African diaspora and introducing it to the mainstream audience. Another recipient, Kelley, clinched the fellowship for her videos depicting women’s experiences at different places and points in time. Wolfe currently teaches music composition at the New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. She is highly regarded as a distinguished composer of music that centers around historical and fabled storylines, with songs ranging from the folk to the classical genera.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation established the fellowship program in 1981.