Radical Theorist Fred Moten Among the 2020 MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant Winners

Theorist and poet Fred Moten. John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University / YouTube

In an extremely turbulent year rife with a proliferation of badly-executed and harmful ideas, it’s a comfort that people with good ideas are once again being honored with the annual distribution of MacArthur fellowships. Awarded each year by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and amounting to $625,000 that’s distributed to each awardee over the course of five years, the MacArthur “Genius” grant is an extremely coveted honor for creatives in many different kinds of fields. This year, the recipients include Larissa FastHorse, a Native American playwright and choreographer and cofounder of the consulting firm Indigenous Direction, the conceptual artist Ralph Lemon and the theorist and poet Fred Moten.

In addition to producing books of poetry that that interrogate themes of universality, fugitivity, suppression and liberation, Moten has also produced some of the most influential theoretical texts in recent memory. These texts include In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, I ran from it but was still in it and The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, the latter of which being a comprehensive exploration of “an array of concepts: study, debt, surround, planning, and the shipped.”

Moten is also a professor in the Department of Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, and is especially lauded for his development of new ways of understanding the intersection of joy and pain in Black social and cultural life. “I’m trying to do that in the interest of always trying to advance joy, over against the conditions that produce pain,” Moten told the MacArthur foundation.

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The awardees of this year’s grant have a distinctly multifaceted approach to their creative endeavors.  Ralph Lemon, who currently serves as the Artistic Director of Cross Performance, a dance company “dedicated to the creation of cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary performance and presentation,” makes work that is elusive by definition. Transcending the boundaries between writing, choreography, dance, visual art and conceptual art, Lemon has had exhibitions at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Altogether, this year’s crop of MacArthur grant winners illustrates an increased institutional interest in creatives whose theoretical and artistic output cannot be easily defined.

Radical Theorist Fred Moten Among the 2020 MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant Winners