MacArthur Genius Grants: Not Worth It

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Before you ask, the answer is no—I have never won a MacArthur Genius Grant. Nor did I win this year. And thank god for that.

This morning, the MacArthur Foundation announced its latest batch of 23 “Genius Grant” recipients, each of whom will receive $625,000 no strings attached, as well as the right to call themselves “Genius” while maintaining plausible deniability of being narcissistic monsters. Enjoy it, people. I don’t envy you a bit.


Do not shed any tears for me or my many colleagues here who were once again snubbed by the faceless and unaccountable bureaucrats who select the recipients of this award. The truth is that no single honor in America comes with a more heaping dose of quiet resentment from all of your peers. The Nobel Prize goes to famous people with lofty accomplishments; the Super Bowl trophy goes to people who had to win a game fair and square. But the Genius Grants drop out of the blue into the laps of dozens of people who are just superficially similar enough to the average “creative class” person that they are guaranteed to evoke widespread feelings of, “Fuck that—why not me?”

A writer for the New Yorker won this year. I’m a writer. Why not me? This guy’s a graphic novelist. Drawing comic books makes you a genius now? A jewelry maker—my little nieces do that. Where’s their award? This person makes “visual nonfiction.” I’ve done Facebook Live videos—sounds basically the same. Here’s a writer who “renders pressing issues of our time into portraits of day-to-day lived experience.” How is that different from blogging? And a “cultural historian?” Feel like I could have easily been that if I had had a different major. This guy made a microscope out of paper. I could make an origami swan (with a little practice). And hey, must be nice to get a big pile of free money just for writing poems.


Roses are red
Violets are blue
Perhaps if the foundation had taken the time to search a little more widely
I could be you.

To be clear, I extend my personal congratulations to all the winners, along with a hearty pat on the back and a sincere smile for their well-deserved good fortune, sullied though it may be by the fact that countless others could have plausibly been chosen instead. But you know how most people are. (Mean and jealous.)

Anyhow, enjoy that money, fame, and adulation for your valuable work. I mean that. Don’t even think about what everyone is saying.