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Okwui Okpokwasili Receives a MacArthur "Genius" Grant

Okwui Okpokwasili, here in her Poor People's TV Room, was doing her laundry when she learned she was receiving a MacArthur Fellowship. Photo by Mena Brunette of xmbphotography, Courtesy Okpokwasili

Okwui Okpokwasili just got $625,000 richer. The MacArthur Foundation announced its 2018 class of Fellows today, and the genre-defying choreographer was the only dance artist included alongside scientists, activists and writers. According to The New York Times, she got the call telling her the news on her way to the laundromat.


Colloquially referred to as the "genius" grant, MacArthur Fellowships are notoriously mysterious—the selection process and the people who do the choosing are tightly-held secrets—and can be game-changing. The $625,000 comes with no strings attached and is distributed over five years—a huge boon for dance artists more used to working grant to grant. Okpokwasili is one of less than two dozen dance artists who have received the distinction, a rarefied group that includes Kyle Abraham, Michelle Dorrance, Paul Taylor and Yvonne Rainer.

Photo courtesy C4 Global Communications

The citation for Okpokwasili reads, "Making visible the interior lives of women whose stories of resistance and resilience have been left out of dominant cultural narratives." This is a description that should come as no surprise to anyone who has encountered her work, in particular her Bessie Award–winning Bronx Gothic. The 90-minute solo, an intense exploration of black girlhood, loosely based on Okpokwasili's childhood in the Bronx, is a tour de force that has toured the U.S., and was transformed into a critically-lauded documentary of the same name.

Join us in wishing her congratulations!

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