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Liberty City's McCraney Among 24 MacArthur Fellow "Genius Grant" Recipients

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Tarell McCraney, a 32-year old award-winning American playwright and actor from Liberty City, has been named a MacArthur Fellow, one of this year's 24 winners of a no-strings-attached $625,000 prize dispersed over five years. Better known as the MacArthur "genius" grant, the stipend represents an increase from last year's sum of $500,000 spread over five years.

The foundation underwent a program review earlier this year during which organizers approved the increase in the stipend amount. The winners this year range from ages 32 to 60, artists who were included in this year's list of recipients are Kyle Abraham, a dancer and choreographer; Vijay Iyer, a composer and pianist; and Carrie Mae Weems, a photographer and video artist.

"I thought somebody was playing a very elaborate trick on me," McCraney said. "The crazy thing was that I was headed to Yale University where I was one of three playwrights to receive the inaugural Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prize -- a no-strings award of $150,000. It wasn't until my brother in Miami FedExed me the official letter that I really believed it, and even then I was a bit suspicious."

Until March of 2014 McCraney will be busy overseeing his adaptation of Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" which will be show in the U.K., Miami and at New York's Public Theatre. He also is working on a new play inspired by "Old Rosa," a novel about a mother and son by Reinaldo Arenas, the late Cuban writer.

McCraney, who lives out of a suitcase these days traveling between London, Chicago, and Miami among other stops, says he plans to "deposit the money in a 401(k) account," but mostly it will serve "as invaluable focus money."

"Rather than flying around trying to make a living doing three or four projects at once, I'll now be able to take my time and concentrate on one," said McCraney, who grew up in Miami's inner-city Liberty City neighborhood, graduated from the New World School of the Arts High School there, and earned degrees from Chicago's Theater School at DePaul University and the Yale School of Drama.

McCraney attended Miami's New World School of the Arts High School, later graduating from DePaul University with a BFA in acting. In May 2007 McCraney graduated from the Yale School of Drama's play writing program where he received the Cole Porter Playwriting Award upon graduation.

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