There’s no denying Junot Díaz is a literary genius, especially after picking up a Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. But now he has official proof.
The 43-year-old Dominican-American novelist and creative writing professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has received a genius grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The 500,000 award, which is paid over five years, gives recipients the freedom to pursue a creative vision while receiving their funds. Winners, who work in fields ranging from medicine and science to the arts and journalism, don’t have to report how they spend the money.
“It would never have dawned on me to think such a thing was possible for me,” Díaz said, reflecting on his early years in New Jersey “struggling with poverty, struggling with English. … I came from a community that was about as hard-working as you can get and yet no one saw or recognized in any way our contributions or our genius. … I have to wonder, but for circumstances, how many other kids that I came up with are more worthy of this fellowship than me?”
But Díaz isn’t the only Latino on the list of 23 genius grant recipients this year.
Natalia Almada, a 37-year-old Mexico City-based documentary filmmaker. who explores views of Mexican history, politics, and culture, also received a grant.
In all, the MacArthur Foundation has awarded a total of 873 grants to date.