The Wednesday Five: The ‘Genius’ Women of the 2015 MacArthur Awards

Yesterday, The MacArthur Foundation unveiled its 2015 winners. The awardees are better known as the “genius grant” recipients. Each awardee receives $625,000 over five years, with no strings attached. They are selected because they have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. This year, nine women (of the twenty four winners), who are groundbreaking in their fields of neuroscience, photography, tap dancing, history, set design, fabrication, poetry, and economy, received the coveted prize. As the Foundation noted:

“These delightfully diverse MacArthur Fellows are shedding light and making progress on critical issues, pushing the boundaries of their fields, and improving our world in imaginative, unexpected ways. Their work, their commitment, and their creativity inspire us all.”  . Here are highlights from this year’s class of ‘genius’ women. You can read more about these women and the entire list of winners here.
.  . 1. Mimi Lien Set Designer, Age 39 Mimi Lien is a set designer for theater, opera, and dance whose bold, immersive designs shape and extend a dramatic text’s narrative and emotional dynamics. Lien combines training in set design and architecture with an innate dramaturgical insight, and she is adept at configuring a performance space to establish particular relationships—both among the characters on stage and between the audience and the actors—that dramatize the play’s movement through space and time.  . . 2.

Marina Rustow
Historian, Age 46

Marina Rustow is a historian using the Cairo Geniza texts to shed new light on Jewish life and on the broader society of the medieval Middle East. The Cairo Geniza (or Genizah) comprises hundreds of thousands of legal documents, letters, and literary materials—many of them fragmentary—deposited in Cairo’s Ben Ezra Synagogue over more than a millennium. Deploying her considerable prowess in languages, social history, and papyrology, Rustow is rewriting our understanding of medieval Jewish life and transforming the historical study of the Fatimid empire.



Beth Stevens
Neuroscientist, Age 45

Beth Stevens is a neuroscientist whose research on microglial cells is prompting a significant shift in thinking about neuron communication in the healthy brain and the origins of adult neurological diseases. Stevens is redefining our understanding of how the wiring in the brain occurs and changes in early life and shedding new light on how the nervous and immune systems interact in the brain, both in health and disease. . . 4. Alex Truesdell Adaptive Designer and Fabricator, Age 59 Alex Truesdell is a visionary social entrepreneur who creates low-tech, affordable tools and furniture that enable children with disabilities to participate actively in their homes, schools, and communities. Truesdell challenges our assumption that disabilities are fixed and instead suggests that limitations can be minimized, or even eliminated, with effective user-inspired adaptations—the kind she creates as founder and director of the nonprofit Adaptive Design Association (ADA). . . 5. Ellen Bryant Voigt Poet, Age 72 Ellen Bryant Voigt is a poet whose eight published collections meditate on will and fate and the life cycles of the natural world while exploring the expressive potential of both lyric and narrative elements. Through her mastery of line and rhythm, she celebrates the grandeur of the poetic form, while her imagery remains rooted in scenes of rural life and close observations of natural phenomena. . Images, video and text excerpted from The MacArthur Foundation under a Creative Commons License.

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  • roz warren October 1, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    I always love the Wednesday Five. Thanks for an uplifting and inspiring post.