Author Junot Díaz Among 2012 MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellows

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Tsar Fedorsky for Home Front Communications / John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Author Junot Diaz, 2012 MacArthur award recipient, on September 20, 2012 in Cambridge, Mass.

The arts are well represented in the list of 23 recipients of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowship, the so-called “Genius Grant” that awards $500,000 over five years to individuals whose future work the Foundation hopes to support.

Writer Junot Díaz, 43, a professor at MIT and the Pulitzer-winning author of 2007’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and the brand-new story collection This Is How You Lose Her, is perhaps the most recognizable name—or the only one, depending on one’s level of interest in cultural pioneers—among the fellowship winners in cultural fields. But that’s not surprising. Genius Grants are forward-looking, based on the winner’s creativity and potential, rather than on their fame or past work; the grants are also free of any expectations or requirements on the recipient’s end. The others are:

  • Documentarian Natalia Almada, 37, who uses a variety of media to tell film stories of Mexican and Mexican-American life.
  • Photographer Uta Barth, 54, whose abstract conceptual work explores the very meaning of photography itself.
  • Photographer An-My Lê, 52, a Vietnamese-American photographer whose work focuses on the interaction of landscape and violence.
  • Writer Dinaw Mengestu, 34, who writes both fiction and nonfiction about the African diaspora.
  • Documentarian Laura Poitras, 48, whose recent work addresses the consequences of the war on terror.
  • Mandolin-player Chris Thile, 31, a composer who is helping the evolution of bluegrass music.

(WATCHPulitzer Prize Winner Junot Díaz Talks Origins with TIME)

MacArthur grants are awarded through an anonymous nominating process that ensures recipients are unaware of their eligibility until the grant is awarded. This year’s list was due for an announcement shortly after midnight this morning, but leaked a few hours early.

In an interview with the New York Observer shortly after the announcement, Díaz said he would use the money to finish a “crazy monster” book on which he’s working.

(MORE: TIME on This Is How You Lose Her)