The MacArthur “genius grants” were announced just after midnight. Winners include cartoonist and graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel, playwright Samuel D. Hunter, translator and poet Khaled Mattawa and poet Terrance Hayes.
Alison Bechdel was commended for “expanding the expressive potential of the graphic form in intricate narratives that explore the complexities of familiar relationships.” Bechdel’s comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, ran from 1983 to 2008. “The characters in my comic strip … are all thinly veiled versions of myself,” she told the MacArthur Foundation. “No matter what they look like … they’re all basically me.” Her memoirs include Fun Home, about her father, which she talked about with Liane Hansen in 2006, and a book about her mom titled Are You My Mother?, which she discussed with Guy Raz in 2012. In a Q&A with NPR on Tuesday, she said:
"I guess I’m proudest of just really sticking with this odd thing I loved and was good at — drawing comics about marginal people (lesbians) in a marginal format (comics). I never thought much about whether that was responsible, or respectable, or lucrative."
Khaled Mattawa was recognized for “rendering the beauty and meaning of contemporary Arab poetry accessible to an English reader and highlighting the invaluable role of literary translation in bridging cultural divides.” He says he finds it “moving and rewarding” to connect poets and readers who otherwise would not have been connected. “There were many great Arab poets who were not available in English, so it seemed important for me to bring them to the American reader,” Mattawa told the MacArthur Foundation. Mattawa spoke with NPR back in February 2011 about his birthplace, Benghazi, Libya, which had just seen an uprising against the regime of Moammar Gadhafi. He told Guy Raz:
“I feel rebirth, greatly honored to be from Benghazi. I feel slightly ashamed at having distrusted the people or my fellow citizens at not being able to rise. And I feel a great sense of solidarity with the people of my city. I’m overjoyed.”
Terrance Hayes was recognized for “reflecting on race, gender, and family in works that seamlessly encompass both the historical and the personal and subvert canonical forms.” Tune in to All Things Considered tonight to hear Melissa Block’s conversation with Hayes. “I’m pursuing a kind of language which is just as complicated and just as transparent as human experience,” he told the MacArthur Foundation. NPR featured Hayes’ poem “The Blue Terrance” back in 2006.
Samuel D. Hunter was commended for “quietly crafting captivating dramas that explore the human capacity for empathy and confront the socially isolating aspects of contemporary life across the American landscape.” Drawing inspiration from his Idaho hometown, Hunter says his plays are an “experiment in empathy.” He tells the MacArthur Foundation: “The plays are very plainspoken. I’m not interested in making a kind of art that goes over anybody’s heads. … I want them to be accessible.”
Clockwise from top left: Alison Bechdel, Samuel D. Hunter, Terrance Hayes and Khaled Mattawa. Images Courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.