Announcing the MacArthur Fellows: Class of 2016

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Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, 2016 MacArthur Fellow. (Photo: Courtesy of the MacArthur Foundation)

Late September in Chicago can mean many different things — from late summer gardens to busy college campuses. But for the 23 artists, writers, scientists and innovators in other fields who have just been named MacArthur Fellows by the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, it means an unexpected windfall, as well as the sort of attention many of these “geniuses” might not be entirely accustomed to.

This marks the start of the 36th season of the Fellows awards, which come with a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000, paid to each recipient in equal quarterly installments over five years. And as usual, the recipients are a widely varied bunch — working throughout the United States, and, in a few cases, at posts abroad — in everything from microbiology and theoretical computation to music, theater, visual arts, poetry and human rights law. The three criteria for their selection are: Exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.

In a prepared statement, MacArthur president Julia Stasch observed: “While our communities, our nation, and our world face both historic and emerging challenges, these 23 extraordinary individuals give us ample reason for hope. 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.”

The newly named Fellow with perhaps the closest ties to Chicago is the Obie Award-winning playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, 31, whose drama, “Appropriate,” was produced at Victory Gardens Theatre in 2013, and whose more recent work, “Gloria,” will receive its Chicago premiere Jan. 14 – Feb. 19, 2017 at the Goodman Theatre.

Homing in on a group of twentysomething editorial assistants, all pursuing success at one of New York’s most esteemed cultural magazines, “Gloria” looks at what happens when “the opportunity to become the next Big Thing on the highly competitive media landscape comes there way.” Described as “a bitingly comic play about contemporary workplace issues and more,” it will be presented here in the Vineyard Playhouse production that was directed by Evan Cabnet when it debuted off-Broadway last year.

Jacobs-Jenkins received a B.A. from Princeton University and an M.A. from New York University, and is a graduate of the Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program at Juilliard. His plays have been performed at such venues as Lincoln Center Theatre/LCT3, Soho Rep, the Public Theatre, Yale Repertory Theatre and Actors Theater of Louisville.

A Fellow with close geographic connections is Ann Basting, a theater artist and educator. A Professor of Theatre at the Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Basting, 51, has explored ways to use storytelling and creative expression to improve the lives of elders who are experiencing cognitive impairment. Drawing on theater, memoir, narrative, collaborative public performance, and academic research, Basting, according to MacArthur, “has developed an alternative concept of aging, one that focuses on its possibilities as well as its challenges, and views sustained emotional connections as critical to our well-being as we age.”

Newly named poet Claudia Rankine, 53, the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry in Yale University’s Department of English, is scheduled to speak at the Art Institute of Chicago on Sept. 27. Her work considers “the emotional and psychic tensions that mark the experiences of many living in 21st century America.”

Another new Fellow, Gene Luen Yang, 43, a graphic novelist and cartoonist based in San Jose, Ca., will be visiting Ward Elementary School in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood in February. Currently the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Yang is spearheading the Reading Without Walls Challenge, a program “designed to help readers find books they might otherwise never choose on their own.” His work for young adults, including full-length graphic novels, short stories, and serial comics, often explore present-day and historical events through a contemporary Chinese-American lens, and draw from American comics, Chinese folklore, and the Chinese immigrant experience.

For an in-depth look at the 23 new Fellows, visit:

Kirsten Fitzgerald (from left), Cheryl Graeff and Keith Kupferer starred in the 2013 production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play “Appropriate” at Victory Gardens Theatre. (Photo: Michael Courier)

Kirsten Fitzgerald (from left), Cheryl Graeff and Keith Kupferer starred in the 2013 production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play “Appropriate” at Victory Gardens Theatre. (Photo: Michael Courier)

Hedy WeissFollow me on Twitter @HedyWeissCritic Email: Currently Trending

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