Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, the 31-year-old playwright who’s considered one of the theater world’s most important young creatives, is among the 23 artists and scientists to receive a 2016 MacArthur Fellowship, the $625,000 grant that’s often referred to as the “Genius Grant.”
Comic book writer Gene Luen Yang, who’s won praise for graphic novels “American Born Chinese” and “Boxers and Saints” and currently the writer of DC Comics’ “New Superman,” also is on the list of MacArthur Foundation fellows, as are New Yorker writer Sarah Stillman, poet Claudia Rankine, composer Julia Wolfe and Anne Basting, a theater artist and educator who’s used theater to expand the understanding of aging.
Jacobs-Jenkins has turned the heads of theaters and audiences with works that are unafraid to tackle contemporary American’s thorniest issues, including race and gun violence. Plays include “An Octoroon,” his funny, racebending, heartbreaking take on a Antebellum melodrama; Pulitzer-finalist “Gloria,” a visceral look at the ways in which the modern media metabolize tragedy; “Neighbors,” about a family of minstrel performers played by black actors in blackface; and “Appropriate,” a family drama about siblings who learn their father was associated with the Ku Klux Klan. His latest play, “Everybody,” will bow at Off Broadway’s Signature Theater next year.
The MacArthurs have a track record of singling out notable theater talent. Last year’s fellows included “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, set designer Mimi Lien (whose designs for “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” hit Broadway this fall) and downtown puppeteer Basil Twist. Samuel D. Hunter and Sarah Ruhl also are among the playwrights who have scored the no-strings grant over the years.