Two comickers have won MacArthur Fellows grants, commonly known as the “Genius”grants, as announced today: Gene Luen Yang and Lauren Redniss. Along with 21 other winners, Yang and Redniss will receive a $625,000 grant reflecting “their exceptional creativity and potential for future contributions to their fields.”
Gene Luen Yang is of course well known for his teaching efforts, Library of Congress ambassadorship and two National Book Award nominated graphic novels American Born Chinese and Boxers/Saints. He’s described as
a graphic novelist harnessing the power of the graphic novel as a means for exploring history and multicultural experiences as well as a creative instructional medium for children and young adults. He aims to change our understanding of different cultures and people, and is an advocate for diverse characters and diverse writers in children’s and young adult literature. He is one of the writers of DC Comics’ New Super-Man, which features a new Chinese protagonist, Kenan Kong from Shanghai.
The LA Times caught up with Yang at a Panera Bread where he was working to ask about the grant:
Have you thought about what to do with the award?
This is what I think: I see myself as having three big roles. One, I’m a member of a family — I’m a dad, I’m a husband, I’m a son; two is, I am a cartoonist; and three is, I’m a teacher. And I want to put part of these resources to each of those things. I don’t think I’m going to build a palace, but it will at least help me send two of my kids to college. I want to hire an intern — there’s a [cartoonist] school out in Vermont that I’ve always been an admirer of. Having an intern would both help me professionally, and it would be a way of easing somebody into the comic book industry. As a teacher, my primary role as a teacher is as the National Ambassador for Young people’s Literature through the Library of Congress, and there are a number of different things we’ve been talking about for a while, but we weren’t sure where the resources to do those things would come from — and now I have access to resources. I’m hoping I’ll be able to do some of those things before my term ends at the end of 2017. So those are the three categories that I want to throw money at.
Redniss is a name not as well known in the comcis world, and she’s more of an artisinal bookmaker; her books about Marie Curie, Radioactive, was also a National Book Award finalist, but it wasn’t really considered a “graphic novel,” but now that you mention it…
Lauren Redniss is an artist and writer fusing graphic art, written text, and printmaking elements to create immersive and idiosyncratic narratives of historical and scientific subjects. She is creating a new mode of nonfiction visual storytelling in which design elements—including illustrations, typeface, color scheme, and other aspects of how the book looks and feels—are integral to the story. Her work explores wide-ranging topics from the life of Marie Curie in her book Radioactive to the role of weather in human events in Thunder and Lightning.
Previous MacArthur fellows from the comics world include Alison Bechdel and Ben Katchor. I actually did a podcast with Katchor and talked about what he did with the grant; that wil be up Friday at PW’s More to Come.
At any rate, it’s a tremendous honor for both, and I’m sure the money will come in handy, too.