Houston writer, Austin astrodynamicist among MacArthur Foundation ‘genius grant’ winners

Houston writer Kiese Laymon, left, and University of Texas professor Moriba Jah, are among the 25 MacArthur Foundation Fellows named for 2022

Houston writer Kiese Laymon and University of Texas professor Moriba Jah are among the 25 recipients of the MacArthur Foundation “genius” award, announced today by the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

This year the award comes with an unrestricted $800,000 prize, an increase over previous years.

Jah, 51, is the Mrs. Pearlie Dashiell Henderson Centennial Fellowship in Engineering at UT with a speciality in orbital mechanics. Jah advocates for “space environmentalism,” a framework for treating Earth’s orbit which now contains almost 30,000 human-made objects, as a finite natural resource.

Laymon, 48, is “a writer bearing witness to the myriad forms of violence that mark the Black experience” wrote the MacArthur Foundation. “Laymon’s writing across genres is grounded in radical honesty and his perspective as a Black Southern man. He exemplifies a commitment to revision in his writing practice and through his capacity for frank self-reflection.”

The Libbie Shearn Moody professor of English and Creative Writing at Rice University, Laymon is the author of the critically-acclaimed “Heavy: an American Memoir,”  named one of the best personal histories of the last half century and also banned by several school boards.

Relatedly, California-based musician Martha Gonzalez, who is currently collaborating with Texas playwright Virginia Grise, one of Texas Performing Arts’ Resident Artists this season, also received a MacArthur today. The pair will be in residence at UT Oct. 17-21 to develop “Riding the Currents of the Wilding Wind,” a concept album and live concert, about the destruction and displacement of a Mexican American community when multiple freeways are built right through the heart of a neighborhood. They’ll present a performance lecture Oct. 20.