Historian Gordon-Reed Named MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius Grant’ Recipient

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by Diverse Staff and wire reports

Acclaimed historian and law professor Annette Gordon-Reed is among 23 winners of MacArthur fellowships, announced Monday by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Winners collect $500,000 in grants that are paid out over five years.

Gordon-Reed, the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” holds professorships in law and history at Harvard University. Gordon-Reed’s writings have been credited with reshaping conceptions of colonial and early-American interracial relations through the examination of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the slave who had children Jefferson is alleged to have fathered. 

The MacArthur Foundation website entry for Gordon-Reed says that, by “disentangling the complicated history of two distinct founding families’ interracial bloodlines,” the historian has been “shaping and enriching American history with an authentic portrayal of our colonial past.” 

Thirteen of the recipients, including Gordon-Reed, are scholars who are affiliated with universities and academic research institutions, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. This year’s MacArthur fellowship winners include a number of artists and other creative professionals, such as “The Wire” television series producer and screenwriter David Simon. 

The MacArthur grants come with no strings attached, allowing recipients the freedom to pursue their work unfettered from grant obligations. Winners don’t need to tell anyone how they’ll spend the grant money. There are no reporting requirements.

“We could spend it all on cake,” joked theater director David Cromer, one of this year’s recipients. Cromer, known for staging American classics like “Our Town,” told the Associated Press that he wasn’t ready to discuss what he may attempt with the grant’s support. But he has some non-cake ideas.

“It purchases you freedom,” Cromer said. “I can do things now that aren’t necessarily going to generate an income.”

That’s exactly what the foundation has in mind. Bob Gallucci, the foundation’s president, called the grants “an investment in people who have already done extraordinary things.” There have been 828 MacArthur Fellows, including this year’s winners.

“We’re hoping not only that they’ll do extraordinary things in the future, but that this fellowship will make that somewhat more likely,” Gallucci said.

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