Chicago man among 26 winners for MacArthur Foundation ‘genius grants’

(CNN) — A South Side Chicago urban designer, the author of the novel “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” and an attorney who has fought to make “revenge porn” a crime are among the 26 winners of this year’s MacArthur Foundation “genius grants.”

The honor comes with a $625,000, no-strings-attached award paid out over five years. Since 1981, 1,040 people have earned the acclaim, including best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates and “Hamilton” playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The awards go to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction,” the foundation says on its website. The award, and its hefty payment, is intended to encourage the winners to “pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations.”

The 2019 winners include Emmanuel Pratt, a 42-year-old urban designer who is the co-founder of Sweet Water Foundation (SWF), a nonprofit organization on Chicago’s South Side.

SWF “transform(s) vacant spaces and abandoned buildings into economically and ecologically productive and sustainable community assets that produce engaged youth, skilled workers, art, locally-grown food, and affordable housing,” according to their website.

In a video posted on the MacArthur Foundation website, Pratt said his work is a, “holistic experience of what it takes in order to really build a neighborhood back up from the ground up.”

Another winner includes Ocean Vuong, the 30-year-old Vietnamese-American author of “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.” The loosely autobiographical novel is structured as a letter from a son to his mother who will never read it, and it was named to the Longlist of the 2019 National Book Award for fiction.

Vuong said one of the central questions of the book is, “Does language matter?”

“Is it worth it to speak your mind and your truth, in fiction or otherwise, if an audience, even if it is an audience of one, is never promised? Does it matter?” he said.

John Palfrey, MacArthur Foundation president, laid out the wide breadth of the winners’ fields.

“From addressing the consequences of climate change to furthering our understanding of human behavior to fusing forms of artistic expression, this year’s 26 extraordinary MacArthur Fellows demonstrate the power of individual creativity to reframe old problems, spur reflection, create new knowledge, and better the world for everyone,” he said in a statement.

“They give us reason for hope, and they inspire us all to follow our own creative instincts.”

Here’s the full list of winners:

-Elizabeth Anderson, philosopher

-Sujatha Baliga, attorney and restorative justice practitioner

-Lynda Barry, graphic novelist, cartoonist and educator

-Mel Chin, artist

-Danielle Citron, legal scholar

-Lisa Daugaard, criminal justice reformer

-Annie Dorsen, theater artist

-Andrea Dutton, geochemist and paleoclimatologist

-Jeffrey Gibson, visual artist

-Mary Halvorson, guitarist and composer

-Saidiya Hartman, literary scholar and cultural historian

-Walter Hood, landscape and public artist

-Stacy Jupiter, marine scientist

-Zachary Lippman, plant biologist

-Valeria Luiselli, writer

-Kelly Lytle Hernández, historian

-Sarah Michelson, choreographer

-Jeffrey Alan Miller, literary scholar

-Jerry X. Mitrovica, theoretical geophysicist

-Emmanuel Pratt, urban designer

-Cameron Rowland, artist

-Vanessa Ruta, neuroscientist

-Joshua Tenenbaum, cognitive scientist

-Jenny Tung, evolutionary anthropologist and geneticist

-Ocean Vuong, poet and fiction writer

-Emily Wilson, classicist and translator

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