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Yale Alums win MacArthur “Genius” Grants

October 1, 2019

By Claire Young

Saidiya Hartman ’92 PhD and Emily Wilson ’01 PhD won MacArthur Fellowships, a prize dedicated to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication to their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” The $625,000 award is considered an unrestricted “investment in their potential” and this year’s awardees were selected because “they give us a reason for hope, and they inspire us to follow our own creative instincts” says John Palfry, president of the MacArthur Foundation.

Saidiya Hartman ’92 PhD Saidiya Hartman, scholar of African American literature and professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, was chosen for her work “tracing the afterlife of slavery in modern American life and rescuing from oblivion stories of sparsely documented lives that have been systematically excluded from historical archives.” She is celebrated for “defying the conventions of academic scholarship”, exploring the limits of historical sources, and writing about the lives of the enslaved and cultural remnants of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Her most recent book, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (2019), immerses readers in the lives of young black women who fled the South for Northern cities in the early 20th century.

Emily Wilson ’01 PhD Emily Wilson, a classicist, translator and professor of Classical studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, was chosen for her work bringing classical literature to modern and diverse readership and highlighting assumptions about social interactions that influence translation decisions. Her translation of The Odyssey is celebrated for “unornamented modern idiom” and use of iambic pentameter, which conveys the melodic rhythm of the poem for English audiences. She critically explores the complex representation of female agency and slavery in Ancient Greece, and emphasizes “the power of words and importance of using clear language to tell complicated truths”. Currently, Wilson is working on a translation of the Iliad.