Musician, Novelist, Filmmaker Among MacArthur Fellows
An African American trombonist, novelist and filmmaker are among this year’s class of MacArthur Fellows. The three, along with 21 others, will receive $500,000 in “no strings attached” support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation over the next five years.
Trombonist and composer George Lewis is a professor of music at the University of California, San Diego. Known for his work in experimental music, Lewis’ performances, criticism and scholarly analyses reveal profound insights into the unique expressive potential of improvisation and its critical role in the history and future of musical expression. In addition to his recent forays into Big Band orchestral performance, he is actively engaged in writing a history of the influential Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, of which Lewis himself has been a member since 1971.
Stanley Nelson is a multiple award-winning documentary filmmaker well known for using compelling narratives to bring important but forgotten history to the small screen. Some of his recent films include Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind, which was named best production of the year by the Black Filmmakers’ Hall of Fame and the Black International Cinema Festival in Berlin; The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords, which won an Emmy nomination; and Running: the Campaign for City Council, a film based on the 2001 local elections in New York City.
Nelson, executive producer of Firelight Media, a nonprofit production company, plans to use the fellowship to work on new projects, including one on the economic history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and to nurture new filmmakers.
“I hope that getting this type of recognition will help more people appreciate the importance of documentary film, and will encourage other documentary filmmakers, who are so often left wondering if their work has any impact, to keep at it,” Nelson says.
Fiction writer Colson Whitehead is known for experimenting with inventive plots that weave American folklore and history into his texts. At 32, Whitehead has penned two well-received novels: his ground-breaking first book, The Intuitionist (1998), which introduces the reader to Lila Mae Johnson, New York City’s first Black female elevator inspector; and his second novel, John Henry Days (2001), about the life and myth of folk hero John Henry.
Including this year’s class, 635 people, ranging in age from 18 to 82, have been named MacArthur Fellows since the inception of the program in 1981. No one may apply for the fellowship, nor is there an interview process.
To be considered, a person must be nominated by one of several hundred nominators appointed each year. Nominators, who serve anonymously, are chosen across many fields and challenged to identify people who demonstrate exceptional creativity and promise. A 12-member selection committee, whose members also serve anonymously, meets regularly throughout the year to review nominee files, to narrow the list, and to make final recommendations to the foundation’s Board of Directors. Typically, between 20 and 30 Fellows are selected each year. For more information visit the MacArthur Foundation Web site at
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