Junot Diaz and other writers are awarded MacArthur genius grants(Read article summary)
Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Diaz, reporter David Finkel, and writer Dinaw Mengestu were honored by the MacArthur Foundation, each receiving a $500,000 grant.
L: John Spaulding Center: Eli Meir Kaplan R: Tsar Fedorsky All for John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation/AP
Two writers and a journalist-cum-author are among the 23 academics, artists, and scientists awarded MacArthur â€śgeniusâ€ť grants this week: Dominican-American Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Junot Diaz, Ethiopian-born writer Dinaw Mengestu, and David Finkel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post journalist specializing in military service and sacrifice.
Along with a pediatric neurosurgeon, mandolinist, geochemist, economist, photographer, mathematician and others, these writers were chosen â€śfor their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future,â€ť according to the MacArthur Foundation. Each will receive a $500,000 no-strings-attached grant over the next five years to allow them â€śunprecedented freedom and opportunity to reflect, create, and explore.â€ť
The Foundation said Dominican-born Diaz offers â€śpowerful insight into the realities of the Caribbean diaspora, American assimilation, and lives lived between culturesâ€ť in his Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel, â€śThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,â€ť and two short story collections, â€śDrownâ€ť and â€śThis Is How You Lose Her.â€ť (Here's our review of â€śThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.")
Called â€śvibrant and soulful,â€ť â€śscreamingly funny,â€ť and â€śalways searching,â€ť Diaz is known for introducing American readers to largely ignored and overlooked communities of immigrants, especially Dominicans, through his raw, vernacular-laden books. The author reveals the immigrant life, said the Foundation in its award announcement, by creating â€śnuanced and engaging characters struggling to succeed and often invisible in plain sight to the American mainstream.â€ť
Diaz, himself once â€śinvisible in plain sight,â€ť once lived in an apartment with â€śalmost no furniture and garbage bags for window shadesâ€¦I was going nuts from my lack of success,â€ť he told the Barnes and Noble Review, as reported by Chapter & Verse.
â€śIt would never have dawned on me to think such a thing was possible for me,â€ť Diaz told Fox News Latino. â€śI came from a community that was about as hard-working as you can get and yet no one saw or recognized in any way our contributions or our genius. I have to wonder, but for circumstances, how many other kids that I came up with are more worthy of this fellowship than me?â€ť
He called the award â€śtransformational" and said â€śIt allows you to focus on your art with very little other concerns,â€ť he said, as reported by the Guardian. â€śItâ€™s kind of like a big blast of privilege.â€ť
Thirty-four-year-old Mengestu is also known for writing about the immigrant experience and the African diaspora. Author of novels â€śThe Beautiful Things That Heaven Bearsâ€ť and â€śHow to Read Air,â€ť Mengestu was awarded the grant for â€śenriching [the] understanding of the little-explored world of the African diaspora in America in tales distilled from the experience of immigrants whose memories are seared by escape from violence in their homelands,â€ť said the Foundation.
â€śThe Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears,â€ť his debut novel about Ethiopian immigrants forging a new life in Washington, D.C., won the L.A. Times Book Prize for first fiction in 2007 and Mengestu was named one of the New Yorkerâ€™s 20 under 40 in 2010.
â€śPart of what the MacArthur fellowship does is remind me that the work I've done is relevant â€“ not necessarily what I write about, but the people who populate my work,â€ť Mengestu said of the award. â€śThat those people have a significance and meaning that sometimes might be overshadowed or lost in the larger narrative of the world, and it's important to keep writing out of those experiences.â€ť
Washington Post journalist David Finkel is author of â€śThe Good Soldiers,â€ť for which he spent eight months embedded with an American Army infantry battalion that went to Iraq as part of the American troop â€śsurgeâ€ť in 2007.
â€śHis work is typically the product of months of grueling reporting from remote and harsh locales â€“ Kosovo, Iraq, Yemen, Central and South America and parts of the United States,â€ť writes the Washington Post.
Finkel pushes â€śbeyond the constraints and conventions of traditional news writingâ€ť to produce stories â€śthat heighten the reality of military service and sacrifice in the Â public consciousness,â€ť said the Foundation. â€śAs newspapers continue to contract and move away from immersion-based, long-form reporting, Finkel remains committed to crafting sustained narratives with an uncommon candor that brings poorly understood events and ordealsâ€ť to public attention.
â€śTheyâ€™re not just endorsing my work in particular but a type of journalism,â€ť Finkel told the Post. â€śI like to think this is an endorsement of long-form journalism, in which you stay long enough to tell the story.â€ť
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.