A USC professor, a painter and an opera director from the Los Angeles area are among the 24 2017 MacArthur Fellows announced Wednesday, with each slated to receive $625,000 over the next five years to pursue their own creative, intellectual and professional objectives.
The MacArthur Fellows from the Southland are:
— Viet Thanh Nguyen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction writer and cultural critic who is a professor of English, American studies and ethnicity and comparative literature at USC;
— Njideka Akunyili Crosby is a figurative painter who layers paint, fabric and photographic source imagery that she transfers or collages onto her surfaces. She is credited by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which administers the program, as “developing an inventive yet accessible representational strategy for understanding culture and history from multiple viewpoints all at once,”; and
— Yuval Sharon, an opera director and producer.
Nguyen called receiving the fellowship “humbling because I think about all the other writers today who are also deserving of this award and may not have gotten it and all the writers in the past whose work has made my own possible that haven’t gotten this either. That puts this award into context for me.”
Nguyen said he will be using part of the fellowship money to support a blog he started seven years ago called diaCRITICS, which focuses on Vietnamese and Vietnamese diasporic arts, culture and politics.
“There are such limited opportunities to spotlight these kinds of issues and the writers who work on them,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his first novel “The Sympathizer,” which explores the Vietnam War through the lens of his conflicted protagonist, an American-educated spy for the Viet Cong.
“Through his exceptional skills as an academic and a writer, Viet brings new insight and context to our recent history, and he does so in a way that is deeply compelling and relevant,” USC Provost Michael Quick said.
Sharon is the founder and artistic director of The Industry, a Los Angeles-based production company that brings together singers, instrumentalists and emerging technologies in nontraditional performance spaces, seeking to transform opera from an experience of passive listening to one that is immersive, multi-sensory and mobile.
Sharon’s production of Invisible Cities” was performed at Union Station, with musicians, dancers and audience members interspersed among passengers using the station.
Sharon’s 2015 production of “Hopscotch: A Mobile Opera for 24 Cars,” was performed in such Los Angeles locations as the Bradbury Building, the Los Angeles River and the roof of the Toy Factory Lofts, with the audience transported to the locations in limousines.
Sharon is an artist in residence at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In 2018, he will become the first American to direct a production at the Bayreuth Festival.
The three criteria for selection of fellows are exceptional creativity, a track record of significant accomplishments, and the potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work, according to Cecilia Conrad, the managing director of the MacArthur Fellows Program.
The MacArthur Fellows Program is intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual and professional inclinations, Conrad said. The recipients may use their fellowship to advance their expertise, engage in new work, change fields or alter the direction of their careers, she said.
The fellowship is considered an investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential.
Fellows must be either residents or citizens of the United States, and must not hold elective office or advanced positions in government.
“From transforming conditions for low-wage workers to identifying internet security vulnerabilities, from celebrating the African American string band tradition to designing resilient urban habitats, these new MacArthur Fellows bring their exceptional creativity to diverse people, places, and social challenges,” Conrad said. “Their work gives us reason for optimism and inspires us all.”