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Junot Diaz and other writers are awarded MacArthur genius grants

Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Diaz, reporter David Finkel, and writer Dinaw Mengestu were honored by the MacArthur Foundation, each receiving a $500,000 grant.

By Husna Haq / October 2, 2012

Recipients of the MacArthur genius grants included David Finkel (l.), Dinaw Mengestu (center), and Junot Diaz (r.).

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 “genius” 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.

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Along with a pediatric neurosurgeon, mandolinist, geochemist, economist, photographer, mathematician and others, these writers were chosen “for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future,” according to the MacArthur Foundation. Each will receive a $500,000 no-strings-attached grant over the next five years to allow them “unprecedented freedom and opportunity to reflect, create, and explore.”

The Foundation said Dominican-born Diaz offers “powerful insight into the realities of the Caribbean diaspora, American assimilation, and lives lived between cultures” in his Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” and two short story collections, “Drown” and “This Is How You Lose Her.” (Here's our review of “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.")

Called “vibrant and soulful,” “screamingly funny,” and “always searching,” 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 “nuanced and engaging characters struggling to succeed and often invisible in plain sight to the American mainstream.”

Diaz, himself once “invisible in plain sight,” once lived in an apartment with “almost no furniture and garbage bags for window shades…I was going nuts from my lack of success,” he told the Barnes and Noble Review, as reported by Chapter & Verse.

“It would never have dawned on me to think such a thing was possible for me,” Diaz told Fox News Latino. “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?”

He called the award “transformational" and said “It allows you to focus on your art with very little other concerns,” he said, as reported by the Guardian. “It’s kind of like a big blast of privilege.”


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