The MacArthur Foundation, which “celebrates and inspires the creative potential of individuals” by awarding “genius grants” to artists, scientists, and other influential people, has announced its 2016 MacArthur Fellows. Among the 23 honorees (a list which includes a physicist, bioengineer, sculptor, poet, playwright, and more) is graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang, recognized for his work in creating diverse characters and finding innovative ways to teach coding and other skills through his art and writing.
MacArthur fellows (Hamilton‘s Lin-Manuel Miranda was one last year) receive a no-strings-attached grant of $625,000 spaced out over five years, timed for the period of their lives in which such financial support would make a difference. This recognition of Yang’s impact on comics and literature comes eight months after he was the first graphic novelist to be named a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress. The MacArthur Foundation praises Yang for his work on such First Second titles as American Born Chinese and the “ambitious” Boxers and Saints. They also highlight his latest series, Secret Coders, through which “Yang is leading the way in bringing diverse characters to children’s and young adult literature and confirming comics’ place as an important creative and imaginative force within literature and art.” (Read an excerpt from Paths & Portals, the second Secret Coders book.)
Here’s a short video following Yang around as he discusses his work and his passions:
But while he looks calm and collected in the video above, Yang told The L.A. Times that he was thrown for a loop when he got the news:
I didn’t have a first thought; it was mind-numbing shock. For three days. When I thought of the MacArthur Awards before this, I thought of scientists. I know they give awards to other writers and artists as well, but I primarily thought of it as an award for scientists, cancer research. So it was totally mind-blowing to me — it was awesome. It felt like it was out of left field, but in the best way possible.
And if you want an idea of how these geniuses use their grants, check out a series of Reddit AMAs in which they explain exactly that. Yang’s plans are especially touching:
This is what I think: I see myself as having three big roles. One, I’m a member of a family — I’m a dad, I’m a husband, I’m a son; two is, I am a cartoonist; and three is, I’m a teacher. And I want to put part of these resources to each of those things. I don’t think I’m going to build a palace, but it will at least help me send two of my kids to college. I want to hire an intern — there’s a [cartoonist] school out in Vermont that I’ve always been an admirer of. Having an intern would both help me professionally, and it would be a way of easing somebody into the comic book industry. As a teacher, my primary role as a teacher is as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature through the Library of Congress, and there are a number of different things we’ve been talking about for a while, but we weren’t sure where the resources to do those things would come from — and now I have access to resources. I’m hoping I’ll be able to do some of those things before my term ends at the end of 2017. So those are the three categories that I want to throw money at.
Congratulations to Yang and the other 2016 MacArthur Fellows!