The MacArthur committee cited Finkel as a journalist who pushes “beyond the constraints and conventions of traditional news writing” to produce stories “that heighten the reality of military service and sacrifice in the public consciousness.” It added: “As newspapers continue to contract and move away from immersion-based, long-form reporting, Finkel remains committed to crafting sustained narratives with an uncommon candor that brings poorly understood events and ordeals” to public attention.
“They’re not just endorsing my work in particular but a type of journalism,” said Finkel, who is at work on a book that chronicles the postwar lives of some of those he profiled in “The Good Soldiers.” “I like to think this is an endorsement of long-form journalism, in which you stay long enough to tell the story.”
The MacArthur Foundation reveals the names of the 23 recipients of this year's "genius grants". Winners have no idea they've been nominated for the $500,000 awards until they get the call, and nominators must remain anonymous.
As for the monetary award, Finkel said, “I don’t know how it changes anything. I’m either singleminded or simple-minded — I’m paying attention to the book I’m writing. I have a story I want to keep telling.” He said he has no plans to leave the newspaper.
Finkel is the second journalist affiliated with The Post to receive a MacArthur. The first was Katherine Boo, a former staff writer, who was recognized for her work in 2002.
Mengestu was born in Ethiopia but emigrated with his family to the United States at the age of 2. He grew up in Peoria and Forest Park, Ill., and graduated from Georgetown in 2000.
His first novel, “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears” (2007), was about a struggling Ethiopian refugee who runs a grocery store in gentrifying Logan Circle in Washington. A New York Times review called it “a great African novel, a great Washington novel and a great American novel.”
His second, “How to Read the Air” (2010), is about a young Ethiopian American man who retraces his parents’ travels after they came to the Midwest from Africa. His third book will be published next year.
The MacArthur committee said Mengestu’s work enhanced the “understanding of the little-explored world of the African diaspora in America in tales distilled from the experience of immigrants whose memories are seared by escape from violence in their homelands.”
Mengestu, who recently moved back to Washington with his family after five years in Paris, called the award “a remarkable surprise.” He said he intends to use the money to continue his writing and to help create “a new system of publishing” in Africa, with the intent of both expanding the translation of Western books and promoting indigenous writers.
Others cited by the Chicago-based foundation were Maurice Lim Miller, who runs an anti-poverty agency in Oakland, Ca.; Laura Poitras, a New York documentary filmmaker whose work has focused on the war on terrorism; Melody Swartz, a bioengineer in Switzerland who studies the cellular response to tumors; and Chris Thile, a 31-year-old mandolin virtuoso who has fused bluegrass music with other genres.