3 Black Female Authors Among 21 MacArthur Foundation 'Genius Grant' Winners

Three Black female authors, each with their own acclaim in the literary world, are among the 21 winners of the MacArthur Foundation's "genius grants" this year, CNN reported on Tuesday (October 6). As 2020 MacArthur fellows, N.K. Jemisin, Jacqueline Woodson and Tressie McMillan Cottom will get $650,000 over five years.

"Since 1981, more than 1,000 people have earned the acclaim, including best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates and "Hamilton" playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda," CNN wrote.

Jemisin is a prominent Black female writer in the fantasy genre, pushing the industry to promote works besides that of straight white male writers. The foundation praised her praised her for "pushing against the conventions of epic fantasy and science fiction genres while exploring deeply human questions about structural racism, environmental crises, and familial relationships."

"Fantasy is enhanced by having different voices. But I've always said that Black and female and queer writers will know when we have arrived when our work doesn't have to be exceptional. When our mediocre wish fulfillment fantasies get published as often as the white dudes' fantasies get published," Jemisin said.

Woodson has published nearly 30 works featuring the experiences of Black people, such as picture books, young adult novels and poetry, according to the foundation. They also said Woodson is "redefining children's and young adult literature to encompass more complex issues and reflect the lives of Black children, teenagers, and families."

"I write books that I hope young people can see themselves inside of and see their experiences inside of," Woodson said. "And if they can't, hopefully they'll see other experiences."

Cottom is a National Book Award finalist thanks to her essay "Thick," which details issues around Black womanhood in American life. The 43-year-old is also a sociologist, author and an associate professor at the UNC School of Information and Library Science. The MacArthur Foundation said Cottom was "shaping discourse on highly topical issues at the confluence of race, gender, education, and digital technology for broad audiences."

"Public discourse benefits when we have a deeper, richer set of discursive tools to talk about social problems," she said. "And my hope is that that will socialize and condition a listener to expect the voice of authority or the voice of expertise to be a complex, African American woman's voice."

Photo: Getty Images

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