MacArthur Foundation Names 2017 ‘Genius’ Grant Winners

Cecilia A. Conrad, a managing director of the foundation and the leader of the fellows program, said the goal was to find “people on the precipice,” where the award will make a difference, but also to inspire creativity more broadly.

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The playwright Annie Baker.

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Emily Andrews for The New York Times

“We hope that when people read about the fellows, it makes them think about how they might be more creative in their own lives,” Ms. Conrad said. “It does something for the human spirit.”

The honorees include relatively well-known figures in the arts, like the playwright Annie Baker, 36, who won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for “The Flick”; the theater artist Taylor Mac, 44, the creator of the 24-hour piece “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music”; and the writers Jesmyn Ward, 40, and Viet Thanh Nguyen, 46.

The youngest fellow is Cristina Jiménez Moreta, 33, a founder and executive director of United We Dream, a national network of advocates for immigrant youths. The oldest is Dawoud Bey, 63, a Chicago-based photographer and educator whose portraits of communities include “Harlem Redux” and “The Birmingham Project.”

Even some fellows who have already achieved substantial recognition described the honor as bringing palpable relief.

“I feel released from a profound, decades-old financial anxiety,” Ms. Baker said by email. “Now my job is just to wake up every morning and ask myself: What do I want to write? What is the most important thing I could be writing?”

Few honors are as wrapped in mystery and speculation as the MacArthur. Potential fellows cannot apply but are suggested by a network of hundreds of nominators from across the country, in a range of fields, and winnowed down by an anonymous committee of about a dozen.

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Taylor Mac in “A…

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