Jewish Journal

MacArthur Jews

by Rob Eshman

September 22, 2009 | 1:07 am

The MacArthur Foundations released its list of recipients of this year’s MacArthur Grants, popularly known as the “genius grants.”

The Foundation awards its 24 recipients $500,000 over 5 years in unrestricted funds to continue his or her work. Typically, as The New York Times reports, the grant go to trailblazing artists, scientists and thinkers whose work crosses disciplines and boundaries.
So, to be crass, who’s the Jews?  A cursory last-name check (we said, crass) reveals some obvious winners.  The less obvious ones will emerge in updates.

This year there’s an eclectic batch:

Deborah Eisenberg, 63, a short-story writer.  Isenberg, according to The Times, “grew up in Winnetka, Ill., dark-haired, Jewish, an outcast amid the blond students at school. The community was ‘anti-Semitic and restricted,’ she said. To make matters worse, she wore a metal and leather brace from her thighs to her ears for scoliosis.”

Of her last book The Times wrote:

With her fifth book of stories, Ms. Eisenberg has achieved the kind of grand attention usually given to novelists. The New York Times Book Review pronounced her “one of the most important fiction writers now at work” and praised her stories as “machines of perfect revelation deftly constructed by a contemporary master.”
The characters in Ms. Eisenberg’s stories are full of hidden sorrows and anxieties. She approaches them obliquely, circles around, then comes in for the kill. Their emotions rise inexorably to the surface, bubbles on molten lava.

Beth Shapiro, 33, an evolutionary biologist at Pennsylvania State University. Per Wikipedia:

Beth Shapiro is an evolutionary molecular biologist in the department of biology at the Pennsylvania State University. She was formerly a researcher in the department of zoology at Oxford University.
Shapiro is notable for a number of publications in ecology in journals including Science, and has carried out mitochondrial DNA analysis of the dodo.
She was born in the United States and grew up in Rome, Georgia, where she served as the local news anchor while still in high school. She was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship in 1999.[1]
In 2007, she was named by Smithsonian Magazine as one of 37 young American innovators under the age of 36. [2]

Elyn Saks, 53, a law professor at the University of Southern California, has written of her own mental illness and fights for the rights of the mentally ill. Of her book, “The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness” , Publishers Weekly wrote: 

“In this engrossing memoir, Saks, a professor of law and psychiatry at the University of Southern California, demonstrates a novelist’s skill of creating character, dialogue and suspense. From her extraordinary perspective as both expert and sufferer (diagnosis: Chronic paranoid schizophrenia with acute exacerbation; prognosis: Grave), Saks carries the reader from the early little quirks to the full blown falling apart, flying apart, exploding psychosis. Schizophrenia rolls in like a slow fog, as Saks shows, becoming imperceptibly thicker as time goes on.- Along the way to stability (treatment, not cure), Saks is treated with a pharmacopeia of drugs and by a chorus of therapists. In her jargon-free style, she describes the workings of the drugs (getting med-free, a constant motif) and the ideas of the therapists and physicians (psychologist, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, cardiologist, endocrinologist). Her personal experience of a world in which she is both frightened and frightening is graphically drawn and leads directly to her advocacy of mental patients’ civil rights as they confront compulsory medication, civil commitment, the abuse of restraints and the absurdities of the mental care system. She is a strong proponent of talk therapy (While medication had kept me alive, it had been psychoanalysis that helped me find a life worth living). This is heavy reading, but Saks’s account will certainly stand out in its field.”


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