Kyle Abraham (Creative Commons/courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

(The Root) — A photographer-video artist, a dancer-choreographer and a playwright are the three black people among this year's group of 24 MacArthur Fellowship recipients. Carrie Mae Weems, 60, from Syracuse, N.Y., was awarded for her work in the field of photography and videography. Of Weems, the MacArthur Foundation writes:

Her intimate depictions of children, adults, and families in simple settings document and interpret the ongoing and centuries-old struggle for racial equality, human rights, and social inclusion in America.

At age 32, playwright Tarell McCraney is one of the two youngest people to receive the fellowship in this year's class. (Karen Russell, a writer and fellow recipient, is also 32.) He is being recognized not only for his stage plays but also for his efforts to bring theater to the types of places it's not normally seen, like neighborhoods in his hometown of Miami.

In telling stories that are simultaneously contemporary and universal, McCraney is demonstrating to new and younger audiences the ability of theatre to evoke a sense of our shared humanity and emerging as an important voice in American theatre.

The world of dance and choreography is represented by 36-year-old Kyle Abraham for his work as head of his own company, Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion, specifically his 2012 work Pavement. The work tells the story of a community ravaged by gang violence and police brutality through dance, multimedia installments and spoken word. It is only his second full work, but it's a glimpse of a bright future.

Although early in his career, Abraham is establishing a singular choreographic style and creative vision for exploring important contemporary issues with a clarity and beauty that resonates with a wide range of audiences. 


Since 1981 the MacArthur Foundation has awarded what is widely referred to "genius grants." Past recipients of color include The Root's editor-in-chief, Henry Louis Gates Jr. (1981); actress Anna Deavere Smith (1996); author Colson Whitehead (2002); jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran (2010); and professor and author of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy Annette Gordon-Reed (2011). Each year's group of recipients range between 20 and 40 people, all of whom are anonymously nominated to a panel of a dozen judges. 

The foundation says it does not select award fellowships solely based on past achievement but also to "individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future." In the past, each winner has received a $500,000 grant, which is paid out in quarterly installments over five years. This year, recipients received a $625,000 grant.

Jozen Cummings is the author and creator of the popular relationship blog Until I Get Married, which is currently in development for a television series with Warner Bros. He also hosts a weekly podcast with WNYC about Empire called Empire Afterparty, is a contributor at and works at Twitter as an editorial curator. Follow him on Twitter.