Maggie Nelson, Ph.D. ’04 (English), an award-winning writer known for nonfiction works such as 2015’s The Argonauts, has been named a 2016 MacArthur Fellow by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The MacArthur fellowships, which include a grant of $625,000 awarded over five years, recognize “originality, insight and potential.” It is one of the most prestigious awards in the United States, and its recipients often include writers, scientists, artists, activists, and thinkers whose work can be difficult to classify. Nelson was one of 23 fellows named this year.
“Maggie Nelson is a writer forging a new mode of nonfiction that transcends the divide between the personal and the intellectual and renders pressing issues of our time into portraits of day-to-day lived experience,” the Foundation said in its announcement. “Nelson’s five book-length works of nonfiction are grounded in experiences and topics with which she is struggling. She invites the reader into her process of thinking through and making sense of her unique concerns with the help of feminist and queer theory, cultural and art criticism, philosophy and psychology.”
At the Graduate Center, Nelson completed her dissertation, “Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions,” working under the supervision of Distinguished ProfessorWayne Koestenbaum. Readers included Distinguished Professors Nancy K. Miller and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.
“[Nelson] found a friendship with her instabilities and turned it immediately into questions that are dazzled, rather than narcotized,” Koestenbaum said in an April 2016 New York profile of Nelson. “The language of criticism fit her like a glove. She already had the whole personality and she was much more fluent than I am, or anyone I know—with just putting together a paragraph so that it flows and pursues an argument in a non-pedestrian way. A quality of being on fire with questions.”
Nelson is currently a faculty member of the California Institute of the Arts’ School of Critical Studies in Valencia, California. The Argonauts, which explores gender, queer family, motherhood, and identity, won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. In The Art of Cruelty(2011), she examines cruelty as an aesthetic device in 20th-century avant-garde art. Her other publications include three books of nonfiction and several poetry collections.