How does a MacArthur fellowship change lives? Six Chicago winners offered to tell us.
“The award let me spend more time with my father, who was dying while I was in the middle of working on my book Caramelo. I also used some of the money to organize gatherings of MacArthur fellows who are Latino. I felt like I became my father’s daughter by becoming an organizer.”
“The prize was like having an invisible bodyguard. It gave me confidence. I saved a lot of the money, but I also traveled to Egypt to research the opera Akhnaten, which I couldn’t have done otherwise. And MacArthur, along with [Tony-winning play] Metamorphoses, helped buy my house in Maine.”
“I won the same day my wife and I were told by an adoption agency that we were in line to receive our son—but we had to finish remodeling our bedroom and bathroom first. Some money went there. And some went to create artworks, including an installation for the Museum of Modern Art in New York.”
“I bought a house in Ashburn and lived off the [rest of the] money while I produced two albums and worked on a documentary about the history of ragtime. Lots of ragtime musicians treated me differently after I won. They were like, ‘Oh, he’s a genius?’ They turned up their performances around me.”
“When the foundation called, I thought it was a debt collector. I paid off my debts [with the award money]; I didn’t have to worry about income. I spent a year in Paris and finished two books [the National Book Award finalist The Lazarus Project and the short-story collection Love and Obstacles].”
“University labs require external funding, government contracts—and those come with constraints. So the award is going toward research with my students. We’ll use the funds to pursue new ideas and discoveries when they appear. It’s rare to have that kind of freedom.”