Imagine this: Your phone rings at midnight and the person on the other end of the line says “Congratulation! You’ve just been given a grant of $500,000!”  Wild, huh? Well, that’s what happened to writers Junot Diaz and Dinaw Mengistu.  The MacArthur Fellowship is what’s known as an “unrestricted grant,” which means there’s no strings attached.  Basically, it gives its awardees the freedom to create without any kind of financial pressure.  Imagine what you’d do with a guaranteed $100,000 a year for the next five years.  Pretty cool.

Born in the Dominican Republic and living in the States since his adolescence, Junot Diaz now teaches at MIT, but came to prominence based on the strength of his debut short story collection, Drown, in 1996.  He’s gone on to produce other critically acclaimed work, including his first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) and his recent second set of short stories, This Is How You Lose Her (2012).

I’ve only become familiar with Dinaw Mengestu earlier this year when I read his second novel, How To Read The Air (2010), which beautifully explores the efforts of a young man who–similar to the author, is the son of Ethiopian immigrant parents–struggles to make sense of his parents’ complicated relationship.  Definitely worth reading.  Didn’t know this, but in addition to his first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2008), Mengistu is also a talented journalist who, according to the MacArthur Foundation site, recently made “recently making forays into war-torn regions of sub-Saharan Africa to write about life in Darfur, northern Uganda, and eastern Congo near the border with Rwanda. Mengestu’s depictions of the loss of culture, community, and landscape endured by immigrants in America are broadening the thematic concerns and voices encompassed by the American novel.”

Congrats to Junot, Dinaw and all the 2012 MacArthur Fellows!

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