The MacArthur Genius Grant is one of the country's most prestigious—and exciting—awards programs. Created to "support creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world," the Chicago-based nonprofit has helped fund projects by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and science fiction legend Octavia Butler.
This year, they've chosen 4 innovators who working to bring people and the planet back together, and each will receive $500,000 to continue their groundbreaking missions. And we bet you've heard about at least one of them before...
ROBIN WALL KIMMERER
As the author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Knowledge, Scientific Wisdom, and the Purpose of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer has fused her expertise as a plant ecologist and a keeper of TEK (Traditional Ecological Knowledge) in one amazing text. Through her work and writing, Kimmerer posits that respecting, nourishing, and embracing the world around us is the ultimate form of wellness. (And she's totally right!)
A member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and a descendent of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, Sky Hopinka is a filmmaker, video artist, and photographer whose pieces layer Indigenous history with his own lived experiences. Using the natural landscape as its own main character, Hopinka uses his multidisciplinary work to show how our souls can't easily separate from the Earth around us.
An environmental engineer at the University of Georgia, Jambeck is dedicated to managing and eventually eliminating plastic waste from our soil and waterways, without judging the public for its over-reliance. "Asking people to simply choose less plastic is like asking people to drive less when their entire transportation system was designed for cars," she says, saying her goal is "making the power of [anti-plastic] choice inclusive and accessible to all.” One way to start: Jambeck's Marine Debris Tracker, which helps conservationists see the effects of ocean plastic in real time.
JOSEPH DREW LANHAM
How does forest management impact birds and wildlife? Joseph Drew Lanham is an ornithologist, naturalist, and writer whose work focuses on exploring and answering that question. Through scientific research, cultural criticism, and poetry. Lanham encourages the fusion of social justice with environmental justice, creating a better natural and human world for all living things.