The recipients of the highly coveted MacArthur "Genius Grants" were announced Wednesday, among them cartoonist and graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel, playwright Samuel Hunter, and civil rights attorney Mary Bonauto.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grants $625,000 over the course of five years to each of the 21 recipients. The purpose of the grant is to enable recipients to pursue their own creative endeavors with fewer financial obligations.
Bechdel's graphic novels Fun Home and Are You My Mother? explore her coming of age as a lesbian in rural Pennsylvania and her complicated relationships with her mother and closeted gay father. In addition to her comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, she is also well known for developing the "Bechdel test," gauging how gender-balanced any particular film is. The MacArthur Foundation called her storytelling "striking for its conceptual depth and complexity in structure as well as for the deft use of allusion and reference," adding that "Bechdel is changing our notions of the contemporary memoir and expanding the expressive potential of the graphic form."
Bonauto, the civil rights project director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders is known for her work in bringing marriage equality through a state-by-state strategy. Early wins in Vermont, which held that same-sex couples should have the same protections and obligations that married couples have, leading to the first civil union laws in the nation in 2000. She was lead counsel in the landmark 2004 Massachusetts decision that held that prohibiting civil marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional, and her federal case Gill v. Office of Personnel Management was an important model for the Supreme Court case striking down DOMA in 2013. Since last year, she has been the Shikes Fellow in Civil Liberties and Civil Rights and Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School.
Hunter crafts plays set in austere settings that find ways to draw on the empathy and humanity of people in odd yet everyday situations. The Whale, one of Hunter's most widely produced works to date, tells the story of a writing instructor who has been driven by grief to a state of morbid obesity. Much of Hunter's writing is influenced by his personal experience as a gay teenager attending a fundamentalist Christian high school in Idaho. During the 2013-2014 season, he's premiered threee new plays: The Few, Rest, and A Great Wilderness.
Visit MacFound.org for the full list of recipients.