For other winners — there have been 873 so far, including this year's recipients — the grants bring prestige, confirmation and, in some cases, moments of profound reflection about life and fate.
"It would never have dawned on me to think such a thing was possible for me," Diaz said, reflecting on his early years in New Jersey "struggling with poverty, struggling with English. ... I 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?"
David Finkel, author and national enterprise editor for the Washington Post, said the grant will allow him to complete a story he began in his book, "The Good Soldiers." The nonfiction work recounted the experiences of a U.S. Army infantry battalion deployed to Baghdad as part of the 2007 surge. Finkel is now following returning soldiers and their families, "watching a lot of them sink lower and lower and try to get help and maybe not doing so well with the help that's out there."
Winning a MacArthur grant felt like an endorsement not only of his own work, he said, but also of the type of long-form journalism he practices, which is in jeopardy as newspapers respond to the digital age.