This year’s class of MacArthur Fellows, announced Sept. 22, includes four Princeton alumni: playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins ’06, theoretical computer scientist Subhash Khot *03, financial services innovator José Quiñonez *98, and composer Julia Wolfe *12. The “genius grants,” as they’re known, come with a no-strings-attached award of $625,000. The grants are awarded annually to about 20 people deemed extraordinarily talented in their field by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundation and are intended to help awardees continue to excel in their field of interest.
Jacobs-Jenkins’ plays wrestle with complex issues like race, family, and class dynamics through a historical and satirical lens. His works’ frank confrontations of race and class are devised to shock and sometimes unsettle audiences, with the hope of evolving and engaging the viewers’ ideas on the topics presented. Jacobs-Jenkins is a Residency Five playwright at Signature Theatre and master-artist-in-residence in the Playwriting MFA program of Hunter College, City University of New York.
Khot’s work focuses on the limitations of computing, an area of growing importance as reliance upon computers increases. His contributions to the Unique Games Conjecture (UGC), which poses a specific, so far unproven, computing problem, has given rise to many developments in computer science and mathematics. Khot is the Silver Professor of Computer Sciences in the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University.
Quiñonez, CEO of Mission Asset Fund (MAF), creates a path to mainstream financial services for low-income communities, which historically have been shut out of legitimate banking. By creating so-called lending circles, a traditional practice in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, he facilitates groups of about 10 participants who, after meeting one another and attending a formation session, pool their resources and lend money to one another. MAF services the loans, which have zero interest, and reports payments to credit bureaus to help establish credit history for participants. Since the fund began in 2008, 99.3 percent of their borrowers have paid back their loans.
Wolfe’s large-scale musical compositions draw from American folk music and classical and rock genres, often focusing on issues of labor and American traditions. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, her work Anthracite Fields focused on coal mining set to a backdrop of projected art about mining and miners; she has also set her reaction to the legend of John Henry to music in Steel Hammer using voice and chamber ensembles. Wolfe is the co-founder and co-artistic director of Bang on a Can, a performing-arts organization, and is the associate professor of music composition at the Steinhardt School at New York University.
READ MORE about the new MacArthur Fellows
Not Black and White (PAW’s December 2014 profile of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins ’06)
Tiger of the Week: Subhash Khot *03 (from March 2010)
Loans for Immigrants (PAW’s July 2012 profile of José Quiñonez *98)
Julia Wolfe *12: Musical Innovator (from December 2014)