MacArthur Foundation Grants Awards to Three Bay Area Arts 'Geniuses'

2016 MacArthur Fellows Maggie Nelson, Vincent Fecteau and Gene Luen Yang.  (Courtesy of John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.)

Three Bay Area artists are among the recipients of the coveted 2016 John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation "genius grants."

Graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang, sculptor Vincent Fecteau and writer Maggie Nelson, all learned of their awards by phone on Wednesday.

The winners join this year's class of 23 fellows whom the foundation has recognized for exceptional work in a variety of creative fields. Each fellow receives a stipend of $625,000, which will be disbursed over the course of five years. The gift aims to support each recipient in furthering their work.

“While our communities, our nation, and our world face both historic and emerging challenges, these 23 extraordinary individuals give us ample reason for hope," MacArthur President Julia Stasch said the foundation's award announcement. "They are breaking new ground in areas of public concern, in the arts, and in the sciences, often in unexpected ways. Their creativity, dedication, and impact inspire us all.”

The Bay Area fellows have channeled that creativity into work that has been lauded nationwide.

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Yang, a San Jose native, currently serves as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and is the first graphic novelist to do so in the position's history.  His work explores the Chinese-American experience and other diverse identities and perspectives, with a focus on young adults.

Gene Luen Yang is the author of “The Shadow Hero,” about a character who many consider to be the first Asian-American superhero. Yang is also the author of “American Born Chinese “and “Boxers & Saints.” (Courtesy of Gene Luen Yang)
Gene Luen Yang is the author of “The Shadow Hero,” about a character who many consider to be the first Asian-American superhero. Yang is also the author of “American Born Chinese “and “Boxers & Saints.” (Courtesy of Gene Luen Yang) (Courtesy of Gene Luen Yang)

"My work is really about how young people find their power, how they find their voice, how they find their sense of belonging, and how that adds up to their identity," Yang recently said in a discussion with KQED's Newsroom.

Other Bay Area fellows engage with similar projects around identity and critical introspection. Nelson, who grew up in San Francisco and currently resides in Los Angeles, discusses "universal" narratives and concepts around relationships and identity politics. Fecteau, a fellow San Franciscan, creates sculptures that challenge his viewers to deeply contemplate the act of perception and its relationship with philosophical and physical dimensions.

The MacArthur Foundation also recognized Oakland-based José Quiñonez, the director of the non-profit financial marketplace, Mission Asset Fund, for his efforts toward increasing financial access to minority, immigrant and low-income households.

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