3 Gay Men Receive MacArthur 'Genius' Grants

9.25.2013

By Jerry Portwood

Tarell Alvin McCraney, Jeremy Denk, and Kyle Abraham included in the 2013 class of MacArthur Fellows

Clockwise from left Tarell McCraney (photo by Adam Krause), Kyle Abraham, & Jeremy Denk (photo by Michael Wilson)

One of the most prestigious fellowship programs in the country, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's grants are often termed the "genius grants," but it's also essential for progress in creative and scientific fields since it comes with a no-strings-attached stipend of $650,000. This year's outstandingly talented 24 recipients include three proud members of the gay community: playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, pianist and writer Jeremy Denk, and dancer-choreographer Kyle Abraham.

As Abraham explained to the New York Times, he was relying on food stamps just three years ago and always finds it difficult to subsist as an artist in New York City. “It was a shock," he said, referring to when he received the phone call with the news. "I was laughing about it; I was crying about it, it was so overwhelming. I’ve been trying to figure out how to pay off my student loans to this day.”

Jeremy Denk, who has written for the New Yorker, has a new album, The Goldberg Variations, to be released Sept. 30 (and can be streamed at NPR).

We interviewed McCraney, who was profiled in 2011 as one of our Tastemakers, this summer when his play Choir Boy was being produced by Manhattan Theatre Club. As he explained about his work, the African-American experience in general, and being a gay man in America:

"I come from a very poor background, so there was no cachet to any of the things I was learning or codifying as a gay man at school. So when I got home, I figured out a specific way to go unnoticed. What I recognized is that my friends did the same thing, depending on the institution, that 'double consciousness' existed, that trying to make sure you spoke a certain way, walked a certain way, dressed a certain way when you were in a certain area. So then it becomes a triple consciousness: you act a certain way in the black community, but then transfer that, because you can't act like that at school you can't speak like that at school in order to excel in the education process, which is predominately Western."

Watch a clip of Jeremy Denk below:

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