US & Canada

Ta-Nehisi Coates and Hamilton playwright among 'Genius winners'

Ta-Nehisi Coates is known for his essays on US race relations Image copyright MacArthur Foundation
Image caption Ta-Nehisi Coates is known for his essays on US race relations

A commentator on US race relations and the playwright behind the show Hamilton are among the winners of the 2015 MacArthur Foundation "genius" grants.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lin-Manuel Miranda and 22 others will receive a large cash prize paid over five years.

The winners who range from scientists to designers to artists and historians received surprise calls in recent weeks announcing that they had won.

Many said they would use the money to support their work in the future.

The winners, known as MacArthur Fellows and who did not apply for the award, received calls from the selection committee describing their work and congratulating them on their award.

The award totals of $625,000 (£412,635) per person paid over five years.

"You think it's a prank until you hear everyone on the [conference] call describing your work," said grant recipient Matthew Desmond, a sociologist who lived in temporary housing to study evictions.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Miranda seen performing in Hamilton in August

The foundation cited Mr Miranda's In the Heights, a story of gentrification in New York City, and his show Hamilton, which infuses hip hop and US history, as reasons to award him the grant.

In July, US President Barack Obama took his daughters to a sold-out showing of Hamilton in New York City.

Mr Coates was cited for his unique blend of "personal reflection and historical scholarship" in his writings about race relations in the US.

The foundation highlighted his 2014 essay, The Case for Reparations, which it said "prompted a national conversation" about the treatment of black Americans.

Other MacArthur "geniuses" include:

  • Patrick Awuah, entrepreneur, for "creating a new model for higher education in Africa"
  • Kartik Chandran, engineer, for "transforming wastewater from a pollutant requiring disposal to a resource for useful products"
  • William Dichtel, chemist, for "pioneering the assembly of molecules into stable, high surface-area networks with potential applications in electronic, optical, and energy storage devices"
  • Beth Stevens, neuroscientist, for "prompting a fundamental shift in thinking about brain development in both healthy and unhealthy states"
  • Basil Twist, puppeteer, for "revitalizing puppetry as a serious and sophisticated art form"

A list of all the winners and their full biographies can be read on the MacArthur Foundation's website.

Awards were not limited to those in the humanities, economist Heidi Williams was praised for her work studying the healthcare market, and biologist Lorenz Studer was recognized for his work on stem cells to combat neurodegenerative diseases.

Other winners included Michelle Dorrance, a tap dancer and choreographer, who said that she was going to use the money to pay off debts she incurred promoting her art. She went on to say that the grant would "turn heads toward this art form".

The MacArthur Foundation says that the awards are selected based on a candidates "exceptional creativity, as demonstrated through a track record of significant achievement, and manifest promise for important future advances".

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