Breaking News
More () »

Rice University professor awarded 'genius grant'

Rice University professor Kiese Laymon has been awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, a prestigious honor commonly known as the "genius grant."

HOUSTON — Rice University English professor Kiese Laymon has been awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, a prestigious honor commonly known as the "genius grant."

Laymon has taught creative writing at Rice since he joined the School of Humanities in January as the Libbie Shearn Moody Professor of Creative Writing and English, according to the university.

“I'm not big into awards and recognition, but this one feels special,” Laymon said of the fellowship. “Revision and Mississippi did this. I'm just thankful. Some really incredible people thought my work was OK. That's a big deal to me.”

He's from Jackson, Mississippi, and his work sheds light on the violence that marks the Black experience, the university said in a news release. He's written essays and memoirs as well as fiction.

The fellowship includes an $800,000 stipend that Laymon can use as he sees fit. Awarded annually by the MacArthur Foundation since 1981, the so-called “genius grants” are typically received by upwards of 20 people each year who have shown exceptional originality in and dedication to their creative pursuits. All of them are nominated anonymously by leaders in their fields and considered by an anonymous selection committee, Rice said in the release.

Laymon’s first two books, the novel “ Long Division ” and the essay collection “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America,” were originally published in 2013. Years later, he acquired the rights to both works and published revised editions in 2020 and 2021. Laymon’s bestselling “ Heavy: An American Memoir ” was published in 2018. His writing has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair and ESPN.com among other publications.

Laymon is the first member of the School of Humanities to be named a MacArthur Fellow and the second Rice faculty member to be selected for the award in the school’s history. He joins Rebecca Richards-Kortum, the Malcolm Gillis University Professor of Bioengineering and director of the Rice 360° Institute for Global Health, who received the honor in 2016.

About Laymon

Laymon earned his bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and a master’s in fine arts from Indiana University. Before joining Rice, he was a member of the faculty at Vassar College and the University of Mississippi. In his native Mississippi, Laymon founded the Catherine Coleman Literary Arts and Justice Initiative, which seeks to inspire youth and their parents to read, write and share their life stories.

“I'm really happy that this happened while I'm at Rice,” Laymon said. “The MacArthur means a ton to my Jackson family, especially now. I hope it might mean a lot to Rice and Houston."

Laymon said he plans to use some of the grant money “to work on artful connections between middle school students in Houston and Jackson.”

“I'm really thankful my mama encouraged me to keep making daring — or she would say, ‘excellent’ — art, no matter what,” Laymon said.

KHOU 11 on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Before You Leave, Check This Out