MacArthur "Genius" Awards Honor 22 Game-Changers
The 2011 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awards -- popularly known as the "genius" awards -- were announced Tuesday, and the 22 recipients of the $500,000 no-strings stipend include three people over the age of 50, and nine who are between 40 and 49.
The 50-and-over group includes artist, restoration expert and scholar Ubaldo Vitali,67, whom Smithsonian magazine has called the "greatest living silversmith in the U.S."; Marie-Therese Connolly, 54, an attorney who works to protect the elderly; and U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Kay Ryan, 65.
Here's a look at the three:
1. Ubaldo Vitali, of Maplewood, N.J., is the oldest of this year's award winners. Vitali also is one of the world's foremost practitioners of a craft that dates back 3,000 years to ancient Egypt, and which was practiced by Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere.
While precision lasers, microscopes and other modern gadgets increasingly have made their way into silversmithing, Vitali, who was trained in Rome by his father and grandfather and still belongs to a medieval-style guild there, in many ways remains a traditionalist. He uses some technological advances, but he persists in working by hand, from the mixing of raw materials and chemical analyses to building wooden models and wax molds for his pieces. Vitali even makes his own custom tools.
He's worked extensively for Tiffany, Bulgari and Cartier, produced work on commission for Queen Elizabeth II, and even created horses that adorned the trophies for the Belmont Stakes. From a recent exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution's Renwick Gallery, here's an example of Vitali's work, an exquisite silver tureenthat he made in 2001. According to this Wall Street Journal article, when Vitali got a call last week informing him that he had won a MacArthur fellowship, "I thought it was a joke. It took me a couple of days to realize it was true. Or at least I think it is."
2. Marie-Therese Connolly, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who is the subject of this Washington Post profile, has spent more than a decade combating mistreatment of the elderly. As a Justice Department attorney in the late 1990s, Connolly headed the newly created Elder Justice and Nursing Home Initiative, and figured out ways to get around legal loopholes and prosecute cases of abuse and neglect. According to the Post, she also was the chief architect of the Elder Justice Act, passed by Congress in 2010, which puts information about offenses committed in nursing homes online and makes it easier for nursing home residents or their families to report wrongdoing.
Connolly left the federal government in 2007 to start Life Long Justice, a nonprofit organization that fights for more stringent state and federal investigation and prosecution of violence against and exploitation of the elderly. Here's a speech that she gave in June at a forum hosted by the Congressional Victims' Rights Caucus, detailing how older people have been victimized, and what can be done to combat what she sees as an epidemic problem. "It should be a part of the national conversation, like health care, justice and jobs," she told the Post.
3. Kay Ryan, who lives in Fairfax, Calif., spent most of her adult life working as a part-time remedial English teacher at the College of Marin in Kentfield, Calif., and didn't publish her first major book of poetry until age 40. In this Salon profile, she jokes that she specializes in brief, pithy poems because of "a short attention span." Ryan served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 2008 to 2010, and in April, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her collection of poems, The Best of It. Here's a video of Ryan reading her poem, "The Turtle."
Here are the 40-something winners:
Jeanne Gang, 49, architect, Chicago Ill.
Elodie Ghedin, 44, Parasitologist/virologist, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Kevin Guskiewicz, 45, brain injury researcher, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Peter Hessler, 42, journalist, Ridgway, Co.
Tiya Miles, 41, historian, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Francisco Nunez, 46, choral director and composer, New York, N.Y.
Sara Otto, 43, evolutionary geneticist, Vancouver, B.C.
Jacob Soll, 42, historian, Camden, N.J.
A.E. Stallings, 43, poet and translator, Athens, Greece
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