Activist, historian, writer among `genius grant' recipients

MacArthur Fellows

CHICAGO (AP) — A historian devoted to keeping alive the stories of long-dead victims of racial violence along the Texas-Mexico border and a civil rights activist whose mission is to make sure people who leave prison are free to walk into the voting booth are among this year’s MacArthur fellows and recipients of “genius grants.”

The Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation on Tuesday announced the 25 recipients, who will each receive $625,000.

The historian and the activist are part of an eclectic group that includes scientists, economists, poets, and filmmakers. As in previous years, the work of several recipients involves topics that have been dominating the news — from voting rights to how history is taught in schools.

Race figures prominently in the work of about half of them, including that of Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to be an Antiracist” and “Stamped from the Beginning," which was a National Book Award winner for nonfiction.

There is a generation of older and younger writers, thinkers and creators who are able to recognize the “complexity of racism” and “clarify it for everyday people to see it and grasp it and be outraged by it,” Kendi said.

“These generations have been hugely inspired by previous generations,” added Kendi, who will contribute an essay to the forthcoming book “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story” that’s based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning “1619 Project” that centers U.S. history around slavery. “I think we built this movement to a point in which it is indeed a juggernaut with no way of stopping.”

The selection process for the MacArthur grants is shrouded in secrecy. Instead of applications, anonymous groups make nominations and recommendations to the foundation’s board of directors.

Kendi, 39, said he had no knowledge he had been nominated.

“My first words were: ‘Are you serious?’" Kendi said Tuesday. “It’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest, honor I’ve ever received.”

COVID-19 also was clearly on the minds of the foundation's board of directors. It comes up in the work of no fewer than four recipients, including a computational biologist building tools to track an