2011′s Literary Geniuses

September 20, 2011 | 6 books mentioned 2

This year’s “Genius grant” winners have been announced. The MacArthur grant awards $500,000, “no strings attached” to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” Alongside, scientists, artists and scholars are some newly minted geniuses with a literary focus. This year’s literary geniuses are:

covercovercoverReaders of the New Yorker will be familiar with Peter Hessler’s unique coverage of China, where he lived as much like a local as any outsider might be expected to. While most journalism out of China, a country that seems to be capturing our fascination more and more with every passing year, focuses on the economic might and the “otherness” of the place, Hessler has written compellingly about day-to-day life in China and portrayed its people’s hopes and concerns in a way that feels universal. His work on China is collected in Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, and Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip.

Kay Ryan, one of two poets to be hailed by the MacArthur Foundation this year, was the 16th Poet Laureate of the United States. Her first major work, according to MacArthur, was 1985’s Strangely Marked Metal, and she won the Pulitzer this year for The Best of It: New and Selected Poems. The Paris Review interviewed her in 2009.

A. E. Stallings is the other poet (see Hapax) getting recognition from MacArthur this year, though she’s also well known as a translator (see her translation of Lucretius’s The Nature of Things. An interview with Stallings in the Cortland Review.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. They’re really not as outside the box as they think, Shelley. At least, I haven’t been impressed by their selections the past few years (not to take away from anybody, as all their selections are talented–like this year’s trio). But I’m beginning to think they make their selections by putting a bunch of people’s names into balloons before blowing them up, tacking or nailing those balloons to a huge piece of plywood, and then, blindfolded, throwing however many darts they want at the wall, popping balloons. Whatever names are in the balloons they pop receive the “genius” grant. That’s how I would do it, anyways. I mean, receiving a MAC-grant does a genius you make.

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