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Tony-winning playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda and Juan Salgado, president and CEO of Instituto del Progreso Latino, are among the 24 winners of this year’s “genius grants” by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Miranda, the writer and star of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” told the New York Times that he thought it was a cable company calling to beg him to reconsider his recent service cancellation when he received the call from the foundation in recent weeks. He and the other honorees will receive $625,000 over five years to spend any way he or she wants – no strings attached.
“This goes a long way toward giving artists breathing room,” Miranda told the Times. “While ‘Hamilton’ was being written, I wrote another musical; I was on a TV show that was the lowest-rated TV show in the history of NBC; I spoke at schools; I did some corporate gigs — there’s just jobs you do because you are feeding your family.”
He said he will donate some of the prize money to the several organizations he has fallen in love with like Graham Windham, which was founded in 1806 by Alexander Hamilton’s wife Elizabeth to serve needy children and families, and the Mariposa Center, which helps girls in the Dominican Republic.
“This is not all going to go to me,” he said. “This is also going to go to some of the places that have fed my soul.”
The Chicago-based Salgado, 46, has made it his mission to help immigrants overcome barriers to success via education. He has worked with low-income Latino immigrant communities in Chicago to help them learn the skills they need for higher paying manufacturing and health career jobs.
"In our work, you do the mission to achieve the mission," he told the Chicago Tribune. "You need resources, and you need an audience of people who understand the work you're doing. At the end of the day, you want to make as big a dent in the world as you can. This (award) means more people are going to know about the dent you're making."
The MacArthur Foundation has handed out their “genius awards” since 1981.
Cecilia A. Conrad, the foundation’s managing director, told the Times that the “no strings” aspect of the awards is taken very seriously. She said the honorees don’t have to report to them and can use the funds as they see it.
“We try to reach people who have shown evidence of exceptional creativity but show the potential for more in the future,” she added, “to give individuals the freedom to take some risks, to enable them to do new and exciting things.”
One of this year’s recipient, Michelle Dorrance, a tap dancer and choreographer, told the Associated Press that she will now be able to pay some of the debts she was created.
"But what is so much more important is this will turn heads toward this art form," she added.
The other winners are:
Patrick Awuah, 50, Accra, Ghana. An educator and entrepreneur who founded a university in Ghana that teaches ethical principles and skills needed in contemporary Africa.
Kartik Chandran, 41, New York. Columbia University environmental engineer integrating microbial ecology, molecular biology and engineering to transform wastewater into useful resources such as fertilizers, energy sources and clean water.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, 39, Washington, D.C. Journalist and blogger who writes about issues such as racial identity, urban policing and racial bias.
Gary Cohen, 59, Reston, Virginia. Environmental health advocate and co-founder of Health Care Without Harm who has worked to reduce the amount of pollutants and hazardous waste produced and released into the environment by American hospitals.
Matthew Desmond, 35, Cambridge, Massachusetts. An urban sociologist at Harvard University, Desmond's work has revealed the impact of eviction on the urban poor and how eviction is not just a symptom of poverty, but a cause.
William Dichtel, 37, Ithaca, New York. A Cornell University chemist working to bring a new class of nanostructured materials out of laboratories and into daily use.
Nicole Eisenman, 50, New York. An artist whose paintings, sculptures and drawings explore such themes as gender and sexuality, family dynamics and the inequities of power and wealth.
LaToya Ruby Frazier, 33, Chicago. Photographer and video artist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago who uses visual autobiographies to capture the impact of economic decline and environmental degradation.
Ben Lerner, 36, New York. An English professor at Brooklyn College of the City College of New York, Lerner also is a novelist, poet and critic who has explored the relevance of the artist to modern culture.
Mimi Lien, 39, New York. A set designer for theater, opera and dance who has created performance space to establish relationships between the characters on stage as well as between the actors and the audience.
Dimitri Nakassis, 40, Toronto, Canada. A classicist at the University of Toronto, whose work is transforming the understanding of prehistoric Greek societies.
John Novembre, 37, Chicago. A computational biologist at the University of Chicago, Novembre's work has shed new light on the study of human evolution, migration and the cause of the genetic diseases.
Christopher Re, 36, Stanford, California. Stanford University computer scientist, who has created an inference engine, DeepDive, that can analyze data in a way that is beyond the capabilities of traditional databases.
Marina Rustow, 46, Princeton, New Jersey. Princeton University historian whose work has shed new light on lives of Jews and the broader society of the medieval Middle East.
Beth Stevens, 45, Boston. A neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School, Stevens' research has triggered a major shift in thinking about neuron communication in the healthy brain and the origins of adult neurological diseases.
Lorenz Studer, 49, New York. A stem cell biologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Studer has pioneered research that could provide treatment for Parkinson's disease and perhaps other neurodegenerative diseases.
Alex Truesdell, 59, New York. An adaptive designer and fabricator, Truesdell has created low-tech and affordable tools and furniture out of such materials as cardboard and glue for children with disabilities.
Basil Twist, 46, New York. A puppeteer and theater artist recognized for his innovative work that has helped revitalize puppetry as a serious and sophisticated art form.
Ellen Bryant Voigt, 72, Cabot, Vermont. A poet whose work is known for its distinctive musical quality, Voigt explores will, fate, and life cycles of the natural world.
Heidi Williams, 34, Cambridge, Massachusetts. An economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Williams has explored the causes and consequences of innovation in health care markets.
Peidong Yang, 44, Berkeley, California. An inorganic chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, Yang is seeking to transform the field of semiconductor nanowires and nanowire photonics.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.