An anti-racist author, a documentary filmmaker and a computational virologist are among the 2021 MacArthur Foundation ‘genius grant’ winners
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

An anti-racist author, a documentary filmmaker and a computational virologist are among the 2021 MacArthur Foundation ‘genius grant’ winners

The MacArthur Foundation announced its class of 2021 Tuesday that includes an anti-racist author, a civil rights activist and a computational virologist.

Colloquially known as the “genius grant,” MacArthur fellows are awarded a $625,000, no-strings-attached grant paid out over five years. Since 1981, 1,061 people have been named MacArthur Fellows, according to the foundation’s website. There are no restrictions on how the money is spent, the foundation said.

“As we emerge from the shadows of the past two years, this class of 25 Fellows helps us reimagine what’s possible,” said Cecilia Conrad, managing director of the MacArthur Fellows. “They demonstrate that creativity has no boundaries. It happens in all fields of endeavor, among the relatively young and more seasoned, in Iowa and Puerto Rico.”

One of the grant recipients is Ibram X. Kendi, author of 2019’s “How to Be an Antiracist,” and who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2020.

“Being named a 2021 #MacFellow is tremendous! Thank you to @macfound and my peers for this honor — for recognizing and supporting the work to create a just and equitable society,” Kendi tweeted Tuesday. “Feeling encouraged, excited, stunned, thankful. So many feelings! … It is the honor of a lifetime to join this illustrious community.”

Documentary filmmaker Cristina Ibarra is among the 25 fellows. Ibarra is known for creating narratives about Latino families living in borderland communities, the MacArthur website said. Her latest film, “The Infiltrators,” tells the story of young immigrants who get arrested by Border Patrol and detained in a for-profit detention center, according to the movie’s summary on IMDb.

The film was a collaboration with her partner, fellow filmmaker and MacArthur fellow, Alex Rivera.

Desmond Meade, a Florida-based civil rights activist working to restore voting rights to citizens who were formerly incarcerated, is one of the fellows.

“This is an amazing honor that I didn’t see coming, but now that it’s here, I hope that this recognition serves as an example of what can happen when one is committed to making our society better,” Meade said in a statement posted to Twitter.

Trevor Bedford, a Seattle-based computational virologist who has been developing tools for tracking virus evolution, took a more somber tone when he found out he was a fellow. Bedford has been studying Covid-19 and tweeted in early 2020 — during the onset of the pandemic — that there had been an outbreak in Washington state that had not been detected for weeks.

While Bedford said he was “honored and overwhelmed” being named a fellow, he tweeted Tuesday, “it’s difficult for me to sort out my feelings about these awards, as they are so intertwined with the pandemic.”

“It feels perhaps uncomfortable to be professionally rewarded for doing something that felt like a moral imperative,” he said. “So many scientists, public health officials, health care workers, journalists and others have worked themselves bare during the pandemic. Though there’s still a long road in front of us, I’m confident that our collective effort will ultimately get COVID under control.”

Here’s the full list of 2021 winners:

  • Hanif Abdurraqib, music critic, essayist, and poet
  • Daniel Alarcón, writer and radio producer
  • Marcella Alsan, physician-economist
  • Trevor Bedford, computational virologist
  • Reginald Dwayne Betts, poet and lawyer
  • Jordan Casteel, painter
  • Don Mee Choi, poet and translator
  • Ibrahim Cissé, biological physicist
  • Nicole Fleetwood, art historian and curator
  • Cristina Ibarra, documentary filmmaker
  • Ibram X. Kendi, American historian and writer
  • Daniel Lind-Ramos, sculptor and painter
  • Monica Muñoz Martinez, public historian
  • Desmond Meade, civil rights activist
  • Joshua Miele, adaptive technology designer
  • Michelle Monje, neuroscientist and neuro-oncologist
  • Safiya Noble, internet studies and digital media scholar
  • Taylor Perron, geomorphologist
  • Alex Rivera, filmmaker and media artist
  • Lisa Schulte Moore, landscape ecologist
  • Jesse Shapiro, applied microeconomist
  • Jacqueline Stewart, film scholar, archivist, and curator
  • Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, historian and writer
  • Victor J. Torres, microbiologist
  • Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, choreographer and dance entrepreneur

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