CHICAGO: The MacArthur Foundation has announced the 2018 MacArthur Fellows, popularly known as the “genius” grantees, which comprise 25 creative people across the U.S. who will receive $625,000 over five years to sustain their artistic, intellectual, and professional activities with no strings or reporting requirements. Among this year’s fellows are theatre artists Dominique Morisseau, the playwright of Pipeline and Skeleton Crew (one of the coming season’s most-produced plays), as well as choreographer and performer Okwui Okpokwasili (Bronx Gothic, Poor People’s TV Room) and performance artist/filmmaker Wu Tsang.
“Working in diverse fields, from the arts and sciences to public health and civil liberties, these 25 MacArthur Fellows are solving long-standing scientific and mathematical problems, pushing art forms into new and emerging territories, and addressing the urgent needs of under-resourced communities,” said Cecilia Conrad, managing director of the MacArthur Fellows Program, in a statement.
The committee who gave Morisseau the award cited her work portraying “the lives of individuals and communities grappling with economic and social changes, both current and historical. With a background as an actor and spoken-word poet, she uses lyrical dialogue to construct emotionally complex characters who exhibit humor, vulnerability, and fortitude as they cope with sometimes desperate circumstances. Her plays juxtapose beauty with destruction, hope with despair, and bring to light the complicated realities of urban African American communities.”
Morisseau’s The Detroit Project, a trilogy of works inspired by August Wilson’s Century Cycle, includes Detroit ’67 (2013), Paradise Blue (2015), and Skeleton Crew (2016), in which she “captures the city’s distinctive rhythms of speech to further convey the specificity of place,” according to the MacArthur citation. Other works include Sunset Baby (2012), Pipeline (2017), and the Broadway-bound musical Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of the Temptations (which will begin performances at the Imperial Theatre on Feb. 28). The committee call Morisseau “a powerful storyteller whose examination of character and circumstance is a call for audiences to consider the actions and responsibilities of society more broadly.”
Morisseau received her B.F.A. (2000) from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She is currently a Residency Five Playwright at the Signature Theatre. She has had work commissioned by the Steppenwolf Theatre, the Hip Hop Theater Festival, the South Coast Repertory, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; and her work has been staged at the Public Theater, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and the Atlantic Theater Company.
Another MacArthur recipient is choreographer Okwui Okpokwasili, whose work includes her one-woman show Bronx Gothic (2014), that draws on the storytelling traditions of Victorian epistolary novels and West African griot poets, and Poor People’s TV Room (2017), which explores how Nigeria’s past and present collide and fragment within the body.
Okpokwasili is hailed as “a performer, choreographer, and writer creating multidisciplinary performance pieces that draw viewers into the interior lives of women of color, particularly those of African and African American women, whose stories have long been overlooked and rendered invisible.”
More information about all of this year’s MacArthur Fellows is here.