Inside the Mind of a Genius: Lynsey Addario

MacArthur Foundation
MacArthur Foundation

Now that you know How to Be a Black Genius, members of the 2009 class of MacArthur fellows give some insight into the way they live and think.



Age: 35

Hometown: Westbury, Connecticut

Current Location: Kabul, Afghanistan

Occupation: Freelance photojournalist for National Geographic magazine, The New York Times and the New York Times magazine


1. What four adjectives would your first best friend use to describe you?

Warm, tenacious, hard-working, loyal

2. What dish do you make well?

Coffee and salad.

3. What was your favorite song when you were in high school?

It was so long ago. Maybe “Bad” by U2 or the duets album by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

4. What is the quickest, best form of charity?

To me, giving money directly to poor women in Afghanistan.

5. Do you believe in magic?

I actually just saw my first live magician here in Afghanistan a few days ago. It was incredible. He changed a notepad of blank paper into money. I asked him why he couldn't make all Afghans rich?

6. What's your drink?


Red wine.

7. What’s the oldest piece of clothing you own?

A pair of college sweatpants from my old high school boyfriend.

8. Do you handle compliments well?


Not at all.

9. What habit would you like to break?

Being so tortured about my work.

10. Mac or PC?


11. Who would you destroy?

I wouldn't destroy anyone. I believe in Karma, and think people who deserve it are punished enough by having to live with themselves.

12. What holiday do you enjoy?


Christmas. My big, Italian-American family spends 10 days together eating, laughing and catching up. We have the greatest time.

13. What is your favorite of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution?

Well, as a journalist, I'd say the first amendment—freedom of speech and press. Though I don't think it was honored under George Bush's leadership. I think it’s pretty hypocritical to lead wars in two countries over the course of eight years and to ban photographers from photographing dead American soldiers at war. Is that freedom of press? Americans need to see the cost of war.

14. What is the difference between genius and talent?


I definitely don't feel like a genius. So maybe I am talented? Or maybe a genius is a talented person who works really, really hard.

15. On a scale of 1-10, how lucky are you?

After this award, surviving a fatal car accident, getting married in July to the greatest husband I could dream of, surviving a kidnapping and several ambushes, I would say I have a few angels.

16. What is your definition of luxury?


While I am working: hot, (ideally) running water, a meal that doesn't give me Giardia and has somewhat identifiable vegetables not dissolved in orange cooking oil, clean sheets, and 24-hour hot water available for coffee. I bring my own French press. When I am on vacation—the sea, the sun, my husband and a good book.

17. Do you make your bed every day?

Never. My husband makes it or the cleaning lady when I am working.

18. You own three novels by the same author—who is it?


Joan Didion and James Salter

19. What has been the most extreme opposition to your work and way of thinking?

Probably trying to photograph women in Afghanistan, Saudi and Pakistan. Most people in those countries don't believe women should be photographed, and I think it’s fundamental to show how they live, what they endure.

20. Vanilla bean, dark chocolate or Bing cherry?


Vanilla bean.

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