Follow the Money (to Find a Genius)

According to these very cool maps provided, for the first time, by the MacArthur Foundation, charting all of their fellows from 1981 to 2013, Genius is quite mobile, more so than the rest of the population. To start with, Genius isn’t necessarily born where the money is:

macarthur-fellows-birth-locations

But it travels there:

macarthur-fellows-location-at-time-of-award

What can we learn from this?

Geniuses are highly mobile. Of the 701 grant winners born in the US, some 79% of them had moved to a different state by the time they received their award. … It’s largely research money driving the migration of Geniuses, reports the MacArthur Foundation, citing a 2012 report from Nature. That helps to explain how so many grant winners born in the Midwest wind up on the coasts. (A Science report from last month on 150,000 notable individuals finds that it’s always been this way, going back to Dresden and Nuremberg in the days of Albrecht Dürer.)

So here’s where Geniuses wind up living in the US: Alaska, New Mexico, and Vermont.

One of the Vermonters is, of course, the legendary Alison Bechdel, who is very smart about the ways money can stall as well as start you.

This has been the summer of “big” for Bechdel. A musical based on Fun Home is set to premiere on Broadway; she was awarded the artists residency in Italy; and the day before we spoke, she was announced as a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Fellowship. That last bit of news is what she’s having the hardest time wrapping her mind around. Her voice rises in pitch when she talks about the MacArthur grant. “This is so weird. My life has been so crazy. I’ve had about five lifetimes worth of good fortune. For six weeks, I’ve been at an artist residency in Umbria, living in a castle with a bunch of other artists. Now this?”

The MacArthur grant provides the recipients with more than bragging rights. Bechdel and her fellow “geniuses” will also be gifted $625,000 to be paid out in increments over a five-year period. Bechdel is shocked and grateful to be named in such esteemed company, though slightly concerned about how such a large sum could change her approach to her work. “It’s such a huge gift of security, but security can have a double edge. In many ways, needing to earn a living really drives me. Don’t worry, I’m very happy to have it. But I can see there may be pitfalls to it. I want to be very careful not to be lulled into complacency. I want to keep taking risks. I think the point of it is to enable you to take risks, but I can see how it would have the opposite effect. You feel like you have to have a lot of gravitas or be a ‘serious’ writer now. I hope I don’t get derailed by that.”

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