Inside the Mind of a Genius: Rackstraw Downes

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: 69

Hometown: Pembury, Kent, England

Current Location: New York

Occupation: Artist

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

Dedicated, loyal, caring, understanding

2. What dish do you make well?

French lentil salad

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

“Careless Love”

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

The most fluid and adaptable form.

5. Do you believe in magic?

I believe in mystery.

6. What's your drink?

Scotch, wine, beer (from organically raised grapes & grains)

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

A raw silk bathrobe from Japan that my dad bought there in 1926.

8. Do you handle compliments well?

Less well than I would like.

9. What habit would you like to break?

The desire to please.

10. Mac or PC?

A fountain pen.

11. Who would you destroy?

No one.

12. What holiday do you enjoy?

I love ‘em all.

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

The First.

14. What is the difference between genius and talent?

Genius is of the element water. Talent is of the element air

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


16. What is your definition of luxury?

To have time to read.

17. Do you make your bed every day?

Oh yes.

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

George Eliot, Henry Fielding, Natalia Ginzburg, Marguerite Duras, Jane Austen, E.M. Forster, the Russians, Stendhal, Roberto Bolaño, Samuel Beckett, etc., etc., etc…


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

Greenbergian determinism, & any form of absolutism

20. Vanilla bean, dark chocolate or Bing cherry?

I’m a vegan.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter