There are many awards out there, but only the MacArthur Fellowship is also known as the “Genius Award.” Given to 20 to 40 people every year, the MacArthur comes with a handsome reward of $500,000, a nice pat on the back for those who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.”
More than most other awards, it’s especially fun to study because of the selections (also organized by year here). The fellows can be any age and can be from any field, which brings out the competitive energy from people of all different backgrounds. So, we wondered, how well has publishing fared in the 30 year history of the MacArthur?
Here are the MacArthur winners in relevant publishing fields:
Fiction (41 people): Walter Abish, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Andrea Barrett, Octavia Butler, Jay Cantor, Sandra Cisneros, Edwidge Danticat, Guy Davenport, Lydia Davis, Andre Dubus, Stuart Dybek, Deboarh Eisenberg, William Gaddis, Ernest J. Gaines, Rebecca Goldstein, Virginia Hamilton, Patricia Hampl, Aleksandar Hemon, Karen S. Hesse, Bette Howland, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Angela Johnson, Charles R. Johnson, Edward P. Jones, William Kennedy, Jonathan Lethem, Yiyun Li, Norman Manea, Paule Marshall, Cormac McCarthy, James A. McPherson, Ved Mehta, Richard Powers, Thomas Pynchon, Ishmael Scott Reed, George Saunders, Joanna Scott, Leslie Marmon Silko, David Foster Wallace, Colson Whitehead, John Edgar Wideman
Poets (37 people) : A.R. Ammons, John Ashbery, Linda Bierds, Joseph Brodsky, Anne Carson, Amy Clampitt, Douglas Crase, Irving Feldman, Alice Fulton, Jorie Graham, Allen Grossman, Thom Gunn, Robert Hass, Daryl Hine, Edward Hirsch, John Hollander, Richard Howard, Richard Kenney, Galway Kinnell, Ann Lauterbach, Brad Leithauser, Campbell McGrath, Heather McHugh, Thylias Moss, Lucia M. Perillo, Jim Powell, A.K. Ramanujan, Adrienne Rich, Charles Simic, Susan Stewart, Mark Strand, May Swenson, Derek Walcott, Robert Penn Warren, Eleanor Wilner, C.D. Wright, Jay Wright
Literary Studies (12 people): Harold Bloom, Peter Cole, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Irving Howe, Lewis Hyde, Ralph Manheim, Jack Miles, Laura Otis, Marc Shell, Susan Sontag, Ellendea Proffer Teasley, Huynh Sanh Thong
Design (4 people): Timothy Barrett, Matthew Carter, Claire Van Vliet, Adrian Wilson
Education (2 people): W. Keith Hefner, Vivian Gussin Paley
So, if we include these fellows as all the representatives of publishing, they total 96. The award has been given to 828 people, which means publishing represents 11% of the total recipients.
The category labeled “Fiction” by MacArthur’s website has 41 members, which is the second highest of any category, with only “Visual Arts” topping it at 44 members. In fact, “Fiction” geniuses make up 5% of the total recipients by themselves. Basically, this translates to at least two fiction writers winning the award every year.
The five categories with the most recipients look like this:
1. “Visual Arts” 44 people
2. “Fiction” 41 people
3. “Public Health and Medicine” 38 people
4. “Poetry” 37 people
5. (tie) “Music” 34 people
5. (tie) “Human Rights” 34 people
It should be noted that breaking down these geniuses and giving them strict categorization is a bit flawed because it could be argued some of the names in fiction or poetry could just as easily belong in other categories (Lydia Davis, for example, is renowned for both her fiction and her translations; Robert Penn Warren should probably be listed in both “Fiction” and “Poetry,” considering he’s the only person EVER to win a Pulitzer for both fiction and poetry).
Still, in an inexact sampling, it’s still impressive how much the award goes to publishing-related folks. The fact that there are more MacArthur Genius Poets than all but three other categories is pretty staggering.
But let’s give some credit to the non-writers, as well. W. Keith Hefner is the founder and director of Youth Communication, a nonprofit publisher of youth books and magazines. Adrian Wilson was a legendary book designer. Matthew Carter, a 2010 fellow, has a small hand in the ways in which we communicate: he has designed typefaces like Tahoma, Verdana, and Georgia, and his clients include The New York Times and The Washington Post. And Terry Belanger founded Rare Book School, an organization designed to teach academics and archivists about book history and preservation.
So, publishers out there, rest assured that you’re well represented. There are geniuses among us.
2011′s fellows will be announced on September 20. We’ll be sure to cover any publishing-related recipients.