21 MacArthur ‘Genius grant’ winners — including a neuroscientist, econometrician and historian — receive $625K each

A legal scholar who studies how Black and other disadvantaged families are deprived of their real estate wealth.

A cognitive neuroscientist who taps a range of technologies to understand how the brain functions.

A jazz singer who is expanding what the art of song can achieve.

These are among winners of this year’s MacArthur Fellowships, popularly known as “genius grants.” Each will receive $125,000 annually for the next five years, with no strings attached, from the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

“In the midst of civil unrest, a global pandemic, natural disasters, and conflagrations, this group of 21 exceptionally creative individuals offers a moment for celebration,” said Cecilia Conrad, managing director of the MacArthur Fellows, in a statement.

“They are asking critical questions, developing innovative technologies and public policies, enriching our understanding of the human condition, and producing works of art that provoke and inspire us.”

Following is the complete list of this year’s winners. For more information, visit www.macfound.org.

Isaiah Andrews, 34, Cambridge, Mass.

Andrews, an econometrician, develops “reliable and broadly applicable methods of statistical inference to address key challenges in economics, social science and medicine,” according to the foundation.

Tressie McMillan Cottom, 43, Chapel Hill, N.C.

The sociologist, writer and public scholar explores where issues of race, gender, education and digital technology converge. Her work spans academic scholarship to social media platforms.

Paul Dauenhauer, 39, Minneapolis.

A chemical engineer, Dauenhauer is developing technologies for turning materials drawn from organic, renewable sources into the “chemical building blocks” for items now made from fossil fuels.

Nels Elde, 47, Salt Lake City.

An evolutionary geneticist, Elde explores the processes that allow organisms to attack others or defend themselves.

Damien Fair, 44, Minneapolis.

Fair, a cognitive neuroscientist, investigates brain functioning via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), sophisticated mathematical techniques and other methods.

Larissa FastHorse, 49, Santa Monica, Calif.

Playwright FastHorse, a member of the Sicangu Lakota Nation, embraces Indigenous storytelling. Her plays are “funny, incisive, and, at times, deeply unsettling for audiences faced with the realities of Native Americans’ experience in the United States,” according to the foundation.

Catherine Coleman Flowers, 62, Montgomery, Ala.

An environmental activist, Flowers aims a spotlight on inadequate waste and water sanitation infrastructure in rural America.

Mary L. Gray, 51, Cambridge, Mass.

As an anthropologist and media scholar, Gray studies how the digital economy has transformed labor, identity and human rights.

N.K. Jemisin, 48, New York.

A “speculative fiction writer,” according to the foundation, Jemisin delves into such themes as structural racism, environmental crises and familial relationships in works that conjure “intricately imagined, fantastical worlds.”

Ralph Lemon, 68, New York.

Lemon is an interdisciplinary artist who incorporates choreography, books, paintings and experimental stage performances. In so doing, he generates new “modes of artistic expression,” according to MacArthur.

Polina V. Lishko, 46, Berkeley, Calif.

The cellular and development biologist explores the molecular mechanisms driving mammalian fertilization. She does so via various genomic, biochemical and physiological analyses.

Thomas Wilson Mitchell, 55, Fort Worth, Texas.

A property law scholar, Mitchell works on reforming legal doctrines “that deprive Black and other disadvantaged American families of their property and real estate wealth,” according to the foundation.

Natalia Molina, 49, Los Angeles.

The historian probes how concepts of race, citizenship and belonging have been applied to various immigrant groups in the U.S.

Fred Moten, 58, New York.

A cultural theorist and poet, Moten writes on visual culture, poetry, music and performance, examining them in ways that consider the Black experience.

Cristina Rivera Garza, 56, Houston.

Rivera Garza writes fiction, essays and scholarly works that illuminate the subjects of language, memory and gender from Mexican and American perspectives.

Cécile McLorin Salvant, 31, New York.

Salvant expands the definition of a jazz singer, emerging as a storyteller who encompasses many musical traditions.

Monika Schleier-Smith, 37, Stanford, Calif.

An experimental physicist, Schleier-Smith deepens understanding of how quantum systems function.

Mohammad R. Seyedsayamdost, 41, Princeton, N.J.

The biological chemist studies “the synthesis of new small molecules with bioactive or therapeutic properties,” according to the foundation.

Forrest Stuart, 38, Stanford, Calif.

Sociologist Stuart conducts multi-year investigations that show causes and consequences of entrenched poverty.

Nanfu Wang, 34, Montclair, N.J.

A documentary filmmaker, Wang explores the effects of authoritarian governments and corruption on individuals and communities.

Jacqueline Woodson, 57, New York.

As a writer, Woodson is “redefining children’s and young adult literature” via works that chronicle the complexity and diversity of contemporary life.

For more information, visit www.macfound.org

Howard Reich is a Tribune critic.

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