MacArthur Day is the Best Day! Joy Money Recognition Joy

B-Bonus illoAround these parts, we like to poke fun sometimes at prestigious prizes that come with very little money attached. Because, like, thanks for that Pulitzer but I still gotta eat, you know? Maybe Pawn Stars will give me something for it. Gee, a Fields Medal, huh? Greaaaat. If only I could afford childcare so I could get back to the lab.

The MacArthur Foundation understands. Its “genius grants,” which it gives out once a year, are actual, substantial, maybe life-changing amounts of money ($625,000!). Best of all, they are a SURPRISE. No one applies to be a genius. They work hard and do their thing and get by and then one day someone shows up with a giant check.

Pamela Long, 71, an independent scholar based in Washington, works from home and almost never answers her phone. So when she received an e-mail from the MacArthur Foundation asking her to call, she thought it was for an interview about someone else who had been nominated. Then she was told she had won. In the days that followed, her initial reaction — shock — slowly gave way to relief.

As a historian not affiliated with a university, she never knows how she will afford to do her work — research on the science and technology of 15th- and 16th-century Europe — from year to year. So far she has supported herself through grants. “But I don’t think you can get a grant every year for the rest of your entire life,” she said on a video call from Rome, where she is studying archival material for a book tentatively titled “Engineering the Eternal City.”

SNIFF. Read about all the happily surprised winners here, including my favorite, “Genius to Watch Out For”* Alison Bechdel. Yay Alison!

Thanks for that, Bec



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