Saidiya Hartman Awarded MacArthur 'Genius' Grant

The University congratulates Hartman, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, on this prestigious recognition, as well as two alumni recipients.

September 25, 2019

The MacArthur fellowship, given out annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, today announced that Professor of English and Comparative Literature Saidiya Hartman is one of 26 people awarded what is known as the "genius" grant. 

This no-strings-attached award comes with a check for $625,000 distributed over five years. 

"I am delighted to receive the MacArthur. It means the world to me," said Hartman. "It gives me the time I need to write and think."

Hartman is a scholar of African American literature and cultural history. Her works—which include Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route and, most recently, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval—explore the afterlife of slavery in modern American society.

“The MacArthur award is thrilling news for Professor Hartman and for Columbia,” said Sarah Cole, Dean of Humanities and Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature. “Her work on African and African American lives has inspired, moved and activated readers for many years. Her recent book, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, is a stunning work of scholarship and imagination. In bringing to life the lost worlds and narratives of these many African American girls who lived in our cities—including here in New York—a hundred years ago, she revises not only our sense of the past, but of the present. Professor Hartman's work provides a model for future thought and writing, and we are so delighted that it and she have been recognized with this most exceptional grant.”

According to the MacArthur citation, through her research and writing, Hartman bears "witness to lives, traumas and fleeting moments of beauty that historical archives have omitted or obscured," and "weaves findings from her meticulous historical research into narratives that retrieve from oblivion stories of nameless and sparsely documented historical actors, such as female captives on slave ships and the inhabitants of slums at the turn of the twentieth century."

Two University alumni also received MacArthur fellowships: Valeria Luiselli (GSAS'15) and Emmanuel Pratt (GSAPP'03). 

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Luiselli, author of fiction and nonfiction, looks at the "experience of dislocation as a common theme across her many projects," and writes in Spanish and English, wrestling "with the complexity of translation." Her most recent book is Lost Children Archive, a novel.

According to the MacArthur Foundation announcement, Pratt is an "urban designer who creates models of resident-driven community development" in marginalized neighborhoods.

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He is co-founder and executive director of the Sweet Water Foundation, a nonprofit organization based on Chicago’s South Side that "engages local residents in the cultivation and regeneration of social, environmental and economic resources in their neighborhoods."