When the curtain rises on Antony and Cleopatra at GableStage next year, audiences will be able to say they've witnessed the work of a bona fide genius.
That's because Miami playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, who reimagined the Shakespeare classic set in the late 18th Century tropics on the eve of the Haitian Revolution against the French, has been awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, otherwise known as a "Genius Grant." He, along with South Florida novelist Karen Russell, are two of the 24 MacArthur Fellows this year.
See also: Tarell Alvin McCraney: Miami-Dade Made
This year's fellows were announced yesterday. Each will receive a stipend of $625,000, paid out over the next five years. Together, said Cecelia Conrad, Vice President, MacArthur Fellows Program, they "collectively reflect the breadth and depth of American creativity ...They are artists, social innovators, scientists, and humanists who are working to improve the human condition and to preserve and sustain our natural and cultural heritage."
McCraney told the Miami Herald that the prize money will allow him to focus on what he loves -- writing for the theater -- rather than taking outside jobs to make a living.
"This will allow me to slow down, let this sink in and just make cooler-headed decisions ... Now it's time to look at the long view of my work and career. In order to continue to support oneself, you have to become a shark and eat every opportunity," he explained. "I had tried to schedule a huge chunk of time to write for television to get a regular paycheck."
The Genius Grant caps off a stellar year for McCraney. He entered 2013 by staging a hard-hitting, shortened version of Hamlet at GableStage before heading to London to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company and New York Public Theatre on the upcoming Antony and Cleopatra. He also won Yale University's Windham-Campbell Prize, worth $150,000.
For Russell, who followed up her successful Everglades novel Swamplandia! with Vampires in the Lemon Grove this year, the win must feel extra-validating. After all, she was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer in 2012 when the Pulitzer committee decided not to award a literary prize at all that year.
Happily, she's also making her way home to celebrate; Russell will make an appearance at the Miami Book Fair International in November.
Follow Ciara LaVelle on Twitter @ciaralavelle.