Gene Luen Yang’s already-good year just got a lot better. The graphic novelist, who was chosen in January as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, was named as one of 23 MacArthur Foundation fellows, an honor that comes with a terrific prize.
The fellows, who are mostly writers, artists and scientists, were announced Thursday by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which gives each honoree $625,000 over five years to spend any way he or she pleases.
Yang is an award-winning graphic novelist whose books include “American Born Chinese,” which in 2006 became the first novel of its kind to receive a National Book Award nomination. The Library of Congress tapped Yang as its fifth literature ambassador, a position that will have him champion books for kids and teens through 2017. He is among the authors appearing at the National Book Festival on Saturday in Washington.
In an email to the Associated Press, Yang said he hoped the MacArthur grant money would enable him to have a private work space. “Practically speaking, I haven’t had a studio for a while now. For the past few years, I’ve been working at local cafes and from a corner in my bedroom,” he said.
The idea behind the grants is to give people of “exceptional creativity” the “flexibility” to further pursue their ideas and projects.
“While our communities, our nation, and our world face both historic and emerging challenges, these 23 extraordinary individuals give us ample reason for hope,” MacArthur President Julia Stasch said in a statement. “They are breaking new ground in areas of public concern, in the arts, and in the sciences, often in unexpected ways. Their creativity, dedication, and impact inspire us all.”
Computer scientists Subhash Khot and Bill Thies, author Maggie Nelson, composer Julia Wolfe and cultural historian Josh Kun were among this year’s other award winners.
More than 900 people have received the grants since 1981, with previous fellows including “Hamilton” playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and dancer-choreographer Merce Cunningham. Fellows, brought to the foundation’s attention by an anonymous pool of nominators, do not apply for the money and are not informed they’ve been chosen until shortly before the awards are announced.