Sunday, January 21, 2018
Human Interest

Pipe down, Smarty Pants

Last month, the MacArthur Foundation announced the recipients of its $625,000 fellowships, commonly called "genius grants." Winners include Karen Russell, Florida native and author of the novel Swamplandia!, Miami-based playwright Tarell McCraney, best known for a triptych collectively titled The Brother/Sister Plays, and organic chemist Phil Baran, who attended Gaither High his freshman year — then at 17 received a high school diploma from Mount Dora as well as an associate's degree from Lake-Sumter Community College. The SYI desk was elated to see the number of such accomplished people with Florida ties. It's a refreshing change from the whackadoo Floriduh trope. We had just one question for our winners:

So, Genius, what's the dumbest thing you've ever done?

Baran, 36, a professor at the Scripps Research Institute, emailed SYI with this confession: "When I was in high school me and my friends were (and still are) Star Trek geeks, and one night we went to Denny's dressed up as the Borg. We had aluminum foil on our heads and informed the waitress that she too would be assimilated and resistance was futile. Unfortunately neither her nor the police dining there at the time were Trekkies and thus our attempt at humor was unappreciated. We almost got arrested that night :)"

McCraney responded to SYI from London, where he is working on his set-in-Haiti adaptation of Antony and Cleopatra at the Royal Shakespeare Company: "Sometimes leaving Miami feels like the dumbest thing. And by sometimes I mean every winter in London, New York or Chicago. . . . But once when I was a kid I tried to curl my sister's hair into a bang. You know, the cute ones that you've seen on all the girls in the 1950s photos. I wanted her to look like all the other girls in school, so I got the curling iron that belonged to my mom, and it was all working for a while until I realized I placed it too close to her forehead. My brothers still laugh at me about that. My sister, however, doesn't find it as funny."

• This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The fellowships are $625,000. The amount was misstated previously.

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