The MacArthur Grant is the artistic jackpot. Out of nowhere, a call comes from the MacArthur Foundation and a voice on the other line tells you that you’ll soon be $500,000 richer. Since 1981, the grant has awarded people anonymously nominated for their creative work. They have no idea they’re even being considered until they get the call.
A clown, a slew of poets, scientists and sculptors have all won the grant that many refer to as the genius award — though past winners deny that accusation. This year, the genius list includes 22 innovative men and women who received the life-changing call this week. Here’s a look at what some of them did to earn it:
1) Protect and defend Mickey Rooney
When Mickey Rooney appeared before a Senate panel to detail his own elder abuse, Marie-Therese Connolly sat at the table with him. Connolly, the founder of Life Long Justice, has spent years fighting for the rights of elderly victims of abuse. Read about the District resident here.
2) Crack jokes on the radio
Jab Abumrad, creator of RadioLab, won for his work turning great philosophic questions into understandable hour-long radio shows.
3) Get lost in China
And they say longform journalism is dead. Peter Hessler, a New Yorker writer who tends to drive around China and write lovely books about his experiences, won the award. Immerse yourself in some of his shorter pieces: A 14,000-word interview with John McPhee or a 5,000-word look at Dr. Don, the life of a small-town druggist.
4) Make a lot of noise
Dafnis Prieto likes to bang drums. In the process, he makes some darn beautiful music.
5) Imitate Johnny Tremain
Ubaldo Vitali, 67, is a fourth-generation silversmith. As Alexis Madrigal points out, the list of winners is mostly people who are “information workers” — those whose products are ephemeral thoughts or experiences. Vitali’s work, meanwhile, is hewed by his own hand. One example:
These are just five ways to get the grant. See the other 17 ways here.