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‘Genius grant’ goes to writer, radio producer with Alabama ties

A writer and radio producer with Alabama ties is among the latest recipients of a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation.

Daniel Alarcón, a native of Peru who grew up in Birmingham and graduated from Indian Springs School, is among the 25 people selected as a 2021 MacArthur Fellow. The honor comes with an unrestricted $625,000 stipend paid over five years.

“I’m still processing,” Alarcón said in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR), which distributes Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language podcast he created with his wife that focuses on journalism and storytelling about a range of topics touching Latin America and Latino culture.

“Stories are how we create communities, stories are how we define who we are,” Alarcón said in a video released by the MacArthur Foundation. “I think what unites all of my work is a genuine curiosity. I really am interested in people’s stories. When asking them questions, I really want to hear the answers, whether it’s in fiction or nonfiction, whether it’s in print or audio, whether it’s English or in Spanish.”

In the NPR interview, Alarcón, 44, who now lives in New York and teaches at Columbia University, pointed to his bucolic upbringing in Alabama – juxtaposed with the violent upheaval taking place at the same time in his native Peru – as being foundational in shaping his worldview.

Two of his novels, “Lost City Radio” (2007) and “At Night We Walk in Circles” (2013), take place in the wake of political violence in unnamed Latin American countries. His most recent book, “The King is Always Above the People” (2017), a collection of stories, explores issues of migration, family and broken dreams that sometimes take fantastical turns.

A bio posted by the MacArthur Foundation notes that Alarcón recently expanded his audio-journalism work with a Spanish weekly news podcast, El hilo, where he serves as editorial director. El hilo “engages reporters and experts across the Americas to unpack the most relevant news story from Latin America.

“Adept in many types of media, Alarcón gives voice to the diverse experiences of Latin Americans and of Spanish speakers across borders,” the bio states.

Alarcón isn’t the only recent MacArthur Fellow with connections to Alabama.

In all, there have been 10 named fellows who are native to the state and four who were in Alabama at the time of their award. Among the more well-known with Alabama ties are rural physician Regina Benjamin, human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, environmental health advocate Catherine Coleman Flowers and child care leader Sophia Bracy Harris.

To date, 1,086 fellows have been named since the program’s inception in 1981. The program awards unrestricted fellowships to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”

Learn more at www.macfound.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)