Chicago (AP) - David Simon, creator of the HBO television series "The Wire," is among 23 recipients of this year's MacArthur Foundation "genius grants" -- news that left him with what he described as "a vague sense of guilt."
The $500,000 grants were announced Tuesday by the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The money, paid quarterly over five years, comes with no strings, allowing winners unfettered freedom to pursue their creativity.
Simon's guilt stemmed from already being amply funded in an industry that's "a little bit recession-proof," he said. Still, the award's prestige will go far with network executives. While critically acclaimed, Simon's dissection of urban problems in "The Wire" and more recently "Treme" hasn't yet scored Emmys or high Nielsen ratings.
"It makes it easier to go into the room with the network and argue against doing the usual thing in television," Simon said. His next pitch? The history of the CIA since World War II and a housing desegregation fight in
MacArthur winners don't need to tell anyone how they'll spend the grant money. There are no reporting requirements.
"We could spend it all on cake," joked theater director David Cromer, one of this year's recipients. Cromer, known for staging American classics like "Our Town," said he wasn't ready to discuss what he may attempt with the grant's support. But he has some non-cake ideas.
"It purchases you freedom," Cromer said. "I can do things now that aren't necessarily going to generate an income."
That's exactly what the foundation has in mind. Bob Gallucci, the foundation's president, called the grants "an investment in people who have already done extraordinary things." There have been 828 MacArthur Fellows, including this year's winners.
"We're hoping not only that they'll do extraordinary things in the future, but that this fellowship will make that somewhat more likely," Gallucci said.
Jason Moran, a jazz pianist and composer, said he was elated and that the grant would fuel many of the projects that have lain dormant in his mind.
"I have already begun making minor plans on band expeditions to
None of the winners is from
And Shannon Lee Dawdy, an anthropologist and archaeologist from the
She regrets she hasn't been able to save
"I would like to work with the local community to preserve living traditions and the site itself," Dawdy said, and the MacArthur grant may help. "It might mean that I'm able take things I've long wished to do, things in the 'wouldn't it be nice?' category, and make that actually happen magically."
Receiving word of the MacArthur was "like receiving a phone call from the Greek gods," Dawdy said, because "someone you can't see is pulling the strings of your fate."
Winners have no idea they've been nominated. Nominators are pledged to secrecy.
There's "nothing more fun" than informing the winners, Gallucci said. He broke the news to four grantees this year, he said, first making sure they weren't driving or holding a baby.
Subterfuge can be involved in the notification.
MacArthur winner Amir Abo-Shaeer, a public high school physics teacher in
There was no Liz Brooks. She was a creation of the foundation to get the busy teacher on the phone. "I am prepared to lie like a rug," admitted Gallucci, who notified Abo-Shaeer of the grant.
Abo-Shaeer, who left a job in industry to become a teacher, wants to train other educators about his innovative curriculum and the importance of recruiting and inspiring female students.
"Right now I teach full time. I can relieve my schedule to be a teacher trainer. If I have an idea that's exciting or interesting, I can try it," he said.
The MacArthurs have been nicknamed "genius grants," which can be problematic for winners.
Simon, the HBO producer, said his wife would like to thank the foundation for "five years of fresh material." The morning after she heard the news, Simon's wife, best-selling novelist Laura Lippman, told him, "Hey Genius, you forgot to take the trash out last night."
AP Music Writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody contributed to this report.