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Authors Ross and Adichie named MacArthur 'genius' fellows

September 23, 2008 | 11:08 am


Today, the MacArthur Foundation announced the 2008 recipients of its fellowships, known as "genius" grants. The list includes scientists, doctors, artists, musicians and two writers: 40-year-old Alex Ross and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 31.

Ross, longtime music critic at the New Yorker, is the author of "The Rest Is Noise," a 640-page tour of 20th century music. "What powers this amazingly ambitious book and endows it with authority," our reviewer Jamie James wrote of "The Rest Is Noise," "are the author’s expansive curiosity and refined openness of mind." He goes on to say:

Like any good encyclopedist, he draws on the best existing expertise. Yet many of his most fascinating pages arise from the author’s far-ranging primary research into subjects previously known primarily to academic specialists....

Paradoxically, “The Rest Is Noise” gains much of its intellectual authority from the fearless attitude of its author toward popular culture. Ross’ erudition and grasp of the highbrow curriculum is unquestionable, but what sets him apart from most music critics is the familiar ease with which he also addresses jazz and rock, film and television. His is a sweet and generous voice.

Nigerian-born Adichie has written two novels, "Purple Hibiscus" (2003) and "Half of a Yellow Sun" (2006). Reviewing the latter in our pages, Merle Rubin writes:

This superbly talented writer has tackled a broader, more ambitious subject: the civil war that took place in the decade before her birth. Between her extensive readings and her family's memories of these events, Adichie clearly has the background and understanding to write such a novel. What's more, she has also found a way of engaging this large subject on the personal level by portraying it vividly and poignantly through the eyes of well-crafted characters.

....with searching insight, compassion and an unexpected yet utterly appropriate touch of wit, Adichie has created an extraordinary book, a worthy addition to the world's great tradition of large-visioned, powerfully realistic novels.

The MacArthur Foundation awards each fellow $100,000 a year for five years. Fiction fellows are quite a cohort, including Richard Powers, Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, Octavia Butler, Lydia Davis and Colson Whitehead. Criticism is equally as impressive, with fellowships awarded to Harold Bloom, Susan Sontag, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Irving Howe.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credits: Alex Ross by David Michalek; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie by Okey Adichie