Reading Matters

Genius grant for poet Ellen Bryant Voigt

At 72, poet Ellen Bryant Voigt is the oldest of the 24 recipients of the annual genius grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

What’s a genius grant? you might ask.

It’s a boat-load of money, that’s what -- $625,000 over five years -- absolutely no strings attached. It’s given to people of exceptional creativity, who show the potential for more. Here’s the hope: that the money will allow these talented folks more freedom to take greater risks.

Have you ever heard of anything as wonderful?

Voigt is the only recipient with local ties. She studied piano at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C., and later founded the low-residency MFA program for writers at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa. When she’s not at Warren Wilson part of each summer, she lives with her husband on an old dairy farm in Cabot, Vt.

Fifteen men and nine women were awarded the grants this year. All but two of the men are under 50. Of the nine women, six are under 50. The youngest is 33, a Chicago-based photographer and video artist.

No, you can’t apply for a genius grant. But someday, maybe, if you’re an exceptional tap dancer or puppet artist or chemist or writer or set designer or biolgist, you might get the surprise phone call of your life.