Coincidence? Most certainly, but it is nevertheless fun to count the times a Kalamazoo College campus visit coincides with a subsequent “genius award,” a.k.a. the MacArthur Fellowship.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation recently announced the MacArthur Fellowships for 2012. On that list were Junot Diaz and David Finkel. Both were featured authors in K’s Summer Common Reading (SCR) program—Diaz in 2007 for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Finkel in 2011 for his nonfiction work The Good Soldiers.
Past MacArthur Fellows with a K connection include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (SCR author—Purple Hibiscus—in 2004, MacArthur Fellow in 2008); Aleksandar Hemon (SCR author—Nowhere Man—in 2004, and named a MacArthur Fellow the following month); and architect Jeanne Gang, who received a MacArthur Fellowship not long after her firm designed the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.
“Is it cause and effect?” quipped Amy Smith, associate professor of English and associate provost. “Show up at K, get a genius award,” she smiled, no doubt aware that the timeline works in reverse as well. Edward P. Jones won the MacArthur in 2005 and was the Kalamazoo College SCR author (The Known World) two years later; Colson Whitehead got a MacArthur in 2002 and came to K in 2010 when his novel Sag Harbor was the SCR selection.
What is certain is that the SCR selection committee is very good at assessing major writing talent. The committee includes or has included Marin Heinritz, assistant professor of journalism; Andy Mozina, professor of English; Zaide Pixley, dean of the first-year and advising; and Diane Seuss, writer in residence.