News and analysis
September 17, 2014

5 Nonprofit Officials Win MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grants

Courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Mary Bonauto, 53, a lawyer and civil-rights project director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, who works to legalize same-sex marriage

Five nonprofit officials were named today among the 21 winners of the much-coveted fellowships awarded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, commonly referred to as the "genius" grants.

Among the winners are:

The awards are given to people who the foundation says "have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits"

Each person will receive a five-year, $625,000 no-strings-attached stipend. The program, begun in 1981, has named 918 fellows to date.

An Emotional Phone Call

Mr. Henneberger co-founded Texas Low Income Housing Information Service in 1988 to help support grass-roots leaders in poor neighborhoods. His work on housing issues began more than 40 years ago, when he was an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin.

His group’s most significant victory was pushing the state to distribute $3-billion in disaster relief from the Department of Housing and Urban Development among poor communities hardest hit by Hurricanes Ike and Dolly. Such neighborhoods, he says, usually don’t see their fair share of federal money to help them recover from catastrophes.

Fellows are notified of their award, for which they are nominated and selected in secret, with a surprise phone call from Cecilia Conrad, the program’s leader.

When Mr. Henneberger received his call about the fellowship last week, his reaction drew concern from a companion that he had been given bad news.

"I was walking down the street with a colleague and she thought I had gotten a call that somebody had died," he says.

When he begins receiving his MacArthur windfall, he says, he won’t spend it on himself.

"This is not my money," he says. "This is money to advance the work, and I’m going to take a little time and think about that carefully."

More Awards

Additional fellows named by MacArthur today include:

  • Danielle Bassett, 32, a physicist who studies brain connectivity
  • Alison Bechdel, 54, a cartoonist and graphic novelist who explores familial relationships
  • Tami Bond, 50, an environmental engineer who studies the effect of soot on climate and human health
  • Steve Coleman, 57, a jazz musician
  • Sarah Deer, 41, a legal scholar who seeks to influence policies that protect Native Americans from domestic and sexual violence
  • Jennifer Eberhardt, 49, a social psychologist who examines how people use racial codes
  • Craig Gentry, 41, a computer scientist who focuses on cryptography
  • Terrance Hayes, 42, a poet who writes about race, gender, and family
  • Mark Hersam, 39, a materials scientist who seeks new uses for nanomaterials
  • Samuel Hunter, 33, a playwright who writes about empathy and social isolation
  • Pamela Long, 71, a historian of science and technology
  • Jacob Lurie, 36, a mathematician at Harvard
  • Khaled Mattawa, 50, a translator and poet who specializes in contemporary Arab poetry
  • Joshua Oppenheimer, 39, a documentary filmmaker who was nominated for an Academy Award for "The Act of Killing"
  • Tara Zahra, 38, a historian who studies family, nationality, and ethnicity in 20th-century Europe
  • Yitang Zhang, 59, a mathematician who studies number theory

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct John Henneberger's age.

Send an e-mail to Caroline Bermudez.