Terrance Hayes Is Named MacArthur Fellow

Issue Date: 
September 22, 2014

Terrance Hayes, a University of Pittsburgh professor of English, was sitting in a Highland Park coffee shop with his wife, Pitt Assistant Professor of English Yona Harvey, when he received a telephone call.

It was the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation calling to tell Hayes he had been named a 2014 MacArthur Fellow. The prestigious honor—sometimes called a “genius grant”—awards each fellow a $625,000 stipend to pursue his or her artistic, creative, and intellectual activities. Hayes, 42, is an award-winning poet who is considered to be one of the most compelling voices in American poetry.

“It was a huge shock,” Hayes recalled. “When they first told me, I immediately thought of five other people who could have received it, some right here in Pittsburgh. There are so many great artists here. Everyone knows that Pittsburgh is a great poetry town. I hope this validates that.”

Hayes added that he always tries to challenge himself and evolve as a writer, and he thinks the MacArthur Fellowship will help that process.

Hayes has authored five collections of poetry. Lighthead (Penguin, 2010) was the winner of the 2010 National Book Award for Poetry; Wind in a Box (Penguin, 2006) was winner of a Pushcart Prize; Hip Logic (Penguin, 2002) won the 2001 National Poetry Series, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and was a runner-up for the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets; Muscular Music (Tia Chucha, 1999) won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Whiting Writers Award; and his latest, How To Be Drawn, will be published next year by Penguin Books. When Wind in a Box was named one of the Best Books of 2006 by Publishers Weekly, a reviewer wrote: “in his hip, funny, yet no less high-stakes third collection, Hayes solidifies his reputation as one of the best poets—African American or otherwise—now writing.”

Hayes has received many other honors and awards, as well as fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.

A native of Columbia, S.C., Hayes was educated at Coker College where he studied painting and English and was an Academic All-American on the men’s basketball team. He received a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from Pitt in 1997. He has conducted poetry workshops in prisons across America, and he taught in southern Japan, Columbus, Ohio, and New Orleans before returning to Pittsburgh in 2001 as a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University. He joined Pitt’s faculty in fall 2013.

The MacArthur Fellows Program is intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations. The foundation awards fellowships—a $625,000 stipend paid in quarterly installments over five years—directly to individuals, rather than through institutions. Recipients may be writers, scientists, artists, social scientists, humanists, teachers, entrepreneurs, or those in other fields. There are no limits on age or area of activity. Some recipients use their fellowship to advance their expertise, engage in bold new work, or even to change fields and alter the direction of their careers.

The selection decisions focus primarily on exceptional creativity, as demonstrated through a track record of significant achievement, and promise of important advances in the future. The MacArthur Fellowship is not a lifetime achievement award; rather, the selection committee looks for individuals on the precipice of great discovery or a game-changing idea.

In 2011, two Pitt people were named MacArthur Fellows, then-Pitt School of Medicine faculty member Elodie Ghedin, a parasitologist and virologist, and Pitt alumnus Kevin Guskiewicz (EDUC ’92G), a faculty member in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1996, Pitt alumnus and trustee William E. Strickland Jr. (A&S ’70) received the same honor for his role as an arts educator and the head of two learning communities, the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and the Bidwell Training Center.

Visit www.macfound.org for biographical information, downloadable photos, and video overviews about Terrance Hayes and the other 2014 fellows.