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MacArthur Fellow Samuel Hunter

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What to Do With a ‘Genius’ Grant?

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When he found out in mid-September that he’d hit the jackpot and won a MacArthur “genius” grant—a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000 over five years—playwright Samuel Hunter (Artist Diploma ’09, playwriting) wondered whether he should “do something really bold and big with the money, some project I never would have done otherwise.” But then, he told The Journal in an email, he realized, “this money isn’t about rewarding me for something I’ve already done. It’s about faith that the MacArthur Foundation has in what I might do over the next five years. So I’m going to just continue to focus, work, and improve. And not having to worry about money certainly allows me to do just that.”

MacArthur "Genius" Samuel Hunter
(Photo by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

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Hunter, 33, is one of 21 recipients to have been named a fellow of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (the foundation doesn’t call them genius grants but nearly everyone else does). In its citation, the foundation noted, “Hunter’s quietly captivating dramas confront the polarizing and socially isolating aspects of contemporary life across the American landscape.”

His best-known work is The Whale (2012), which won Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel awards as well as Drama League and Outer Critics Circle nominations for best play. The tale of a morbidly obese man in Middle America, it tackles issues of faith, human connection, and as Hunter, a native Idahoan told The New York Times, “a quotidian America that is often hidden behind curtains and doors.” Among Hunter’s other plays are A Bright New Boise, The Few, A Great Wilderness, and Rest. Hunter also has degrees from N.Y.U. and the Iowa Playwrights Workshop.

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