Meet NYU’s 2016 MacArthur ‘Geniuses’


John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Subhash Khot, 2016 MacArthur Fellow, photographed in New York, New York on Thursday, September 8th, 2016.

Farhin Lilywala, Staff Writer

NYU claimed three of this year’s 23 MacArthur Fellowship recipients, which is also known as the “Genius Grant.” Computer Science Professor Subhash Khot, Associate Professor of Music Composition Julia Wolfe and playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, an alumnus of NYU, all received the honor this year for work in their respective fields.

Peers nominate an outstanding person working in their field for consideration for this award, and the fellows are chosen through a multi-step review process that factors in creativity, past work and potential. The selection process is done without the nominees knowing, and they only find out once they have won the grant.

The MacArthur Fellowship awards $625,000 to each recipient, and fellows receive the money stipend over a span of five years on a quarterly basis. WSN spoke with fellowship recipients Julia Wolfe and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins about this award, but Subhash Khot was not available for comment.

Julia Wolfe

First reaction: It’s a funny story actually. They had a hard time getting a hold of me. I kept getting a call from an unknown number, so I didn’t pick up. Then, I received an email saying that they needed to speak to me about something. I thought they wanted a reference for someone I know, but when they finally called again and I picked up, it was me. It wasn’t even on my radar. It sounds cliche, but I had that immediate reaction, ‘Did I just dream that?’ It is quite dizzying because you still have to focus and take care of things. You have to continue like it’s just any old Tuesday.

Feelings: This grant gave me the opportunity to reconnect with people who’ve helped me along the way. For example, I had a great call with my first music teacher in college. It was just so great to hear her voice and realize that was where I started and here I am now. It is a really supportive environment at NYU and Bang on a Can, an artistic organization that I co-founded.

Future plans: I would like to thank the MacArthur Foundation for providing a special support for the process. I have no idea how I’m going to use it [the grant]. Basically, it will be used somehow for what I’ve been doing, which is pursuing composing. I can probably also give more time and space to my self-generated projects.

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

First reaction: I was surprised, elated, a lot of emotions all at once, but overall shocked in a good way.

Feelings: This sets off most of the financial anxiety, not all of it, but most of it for the moment. It’s definitely been overwhelming since I found out. I haven’t really had time to wrap my mind around it.

Future plans: I haven’t decided on what I’ll be doing with the grant. I’m still recovering from the news, but I will continue to do the work that I want to do. I have a play opening at the Signature Theatre, so I’m mainly focused on that right now.

Email Farhin Lilywala at [email protected].