One produces richly detailed interpretations of Black America’s past and present, the other pathbreaking technologies that further understanding of gene expression. Today, two professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences were named as recipients of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s 2023 “genius grant.”
Imani Perry, the Henry A. Morss Jr. and Elisabeth W. Morss Professor of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality and of African and African American Studies, is a multidisciplinary thinker recognized for her fresh insights on the resilience and beauty of Black American cultural expressions. Jason Buenrostro, an associate professor in the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, won for developing powerful new technologies that provide detailed views — right down to the single cell — of which genes get turned on and off in various contexts.
Buenrostro, a son of Mexican American immigrants and the first in his family to attend college, was “absolutely floored” to learn of receiving the MacArthur Fellowship. “This is something incredibly special and unique, that I’m incredibly grateful to receive,” he said.
“It took a while to sink in,” said Perry, whose connections to Harvard began at an early age as her mother pursued a doctorate at the Graduate School of Education. “I find myself on a regular basis feeling grateful that I get to do work that brings me joy and sense of purpose. So, to have it recognized and appreciated is just amazing.”
For Perry, who is also the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at Harvard Radcliffe Institute, the MacArthur is the latest in a recent string of honors. In 2021, the scholar, artist, and writer was named a Guggenheim Fellow. She then won the 2022 National Book Award for Nonfiction for “South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation,” an exhaustively researched book blending travelogue, memoir, history, and social analysis.
“I love how people have embraced that book,” Perry noted. “I hope it’s a pathway to some of my more historical work like ‘May We Forever Stand’ [her 2018 history of the song ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’] as well as some of the more theoretical work like ‘Vexy Thing’ [an excavation of modern patriarchy also from 2018]. They’re more conventionally academic, but they are without question precursors.”