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The writers who scored this year's MacArthur genius grants

September 24, 2008



Two well known writers were included among the 25 artists, writers, and thinkers to receive the 2008 MacArthur Foundation "genius" grants. The list of this year's winners, each of whom will receive $500,000 over the course of the next five years to work on a project of his or her choosing, was announced on Tuesday.

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Among the 2008 winners were two widely read authors. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of "Half of a Yellow Sun" and "Purple Hibiscus," gets the award for best reaction. The Nigerian novelist said she was taking a bath and celebrating her birthday when the call came. “I was thrilled and grateful,” she wrote in an e-mail to The New York Times from Lagos. “I like to say that America is like my distant uncle who doesn’t remember my name but occasionally gives me pocket money. That phone call filled me with an enormous affection for my uncle!”

Alex Ross, author of "The Rest Is Noise," a cultural history of 20th-century music, is also well known as a music critic for The New Yorker. (See the Monitor's review of Ross's book, which was published last fall.) Ross told Fishbowl NY that he failed to pick the phone up when the call first came. "I saw this mysterious call coming in from Chicago, which seemed ominous. I thought they were trying to repossess my cats or something, so I didn't pick up," he said. When finally (at New Yorker editor David Remnick's urging) he did take the call, he says, he told the cats, "who were relieved."

But as amazon.com points out on its Omnivoracious book blog, many of the other 23 winners are authors as well – although generally for narrower audiences.

Will Allen, for instance, described by the MacArthur Foundation as "an urban farmer," is the author of "The War on Bugs." Andrea Ghez, astrophysicist, wrote "You Can Be a Woman Astronomer." David Montgomery, geomorphologist, has written two general-interest books about his work: "Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations" and "King of Fish: The Thousand-Year Run of Salmon."

To see a more complete list of 2008 MacArthur writings, take a look at www.omnivoracious.com/2008/09/macarthur-fello.html.