Alums Who Do Cool Things: Ben Lerner ’01 wins MacArthur grant

Photo courtesy of Matt Lerner.The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowships are often called “genius grants,” because the selected fellows get $625,000 with what the Foundation itself calls “no-strings attached.”

There is no application; an anonymous committee makes the decision to select individuals who have shown “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits.” Those individuals then receive over half a million dollars to just keep doing what they’re doing.

This year, the 24 fellows include a puppeteer, a history professor, a chemist, and Brown alum, Ben Lerner. Lerner graduated Brown with a B.A. in Political Science in 2001, and remained at Brown to attain a M.F.A in creative writing. He is no stranger to prestigious awards (Fulbright, Guggenheim Fellow) or high critical praise.

Lerner is the author of three collections of poetry and two novels. If you haven’t read it already, Leaving the Atocha Station is definitely worth picking up. The novel follows narrator Adam Gordon through a year in Spain, where, having won a prestigious fellowship, he mostly just attempts to keep up the appearance of doing something.

Lerner also works as a professor at Brooklyn College, though he told the New York Times that he can now hopefully spend less time teaching and more time writing. Regarding the grant, Lerner said, ““It takes away all your excuses to not be doing the most ambitious work.”

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