The MacArthur Fellowship, or "Genius Grant," is given out to about 30 people a year. The fellowship is given to anybody who shows "extraordinary originality and dedication in your creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction."
Winners include folks from just about any discipline, from seismology and genetics to poetry and dance. And of course, screenwriting. Yes, even some screenwriters have made the list (even despite the fact that the fellowship seems to prefer artists working in fields that are essentially dead or dying).
Interestingly, none of the obvious suspects have ever won. No David Lynch, no Coen Brothers, no Charlie Kaufman... Not yet, anyway. However, the fellowship doesn't recognize past achievements; rather, it is "an investment in a person's originality, insight, and potential."
So, what screenwriters have won the MacArthur Fellowship?
1. Cormac McCarthy: Known primarily as a novelist, McCarthy has also written a few original screenplays. He most notably wrote the script for The Counselor, a British-American crime thriller released in 2013. His other scripts include The Sunset Limited (2011) and The Gardner's Son (1976). McCarthy won the MacArthur Fellowship in 1981.
In case you were wondering, the screenplay for McCarthy's novel The Road was written by British writer Joe Penhall.
2. John Sayles: A versatile writer, director, and actor, John Sayles won the MacArthur in 1983. In 1992, he won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his scripts Passion Fish and Lone Star. He was also the writer and director for Men with Guns, Sunshine State, Silver City, and many other independent films.
3. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala: A celebrated novelist and screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala won the MacArthur in 1984. She's best known as the writer of two Academy Award-winning screenplays: Howards End (1992) and A Room with a View (1987). She also won a BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Heat and Dust (1984).
4. Charles R. Johnson: A MacArthur winner in 1998, Charles R. Johnson is best known as a novelist, essayist, and African American scholar. As a screenwriter, he's written teleplays including Charlie Smith and the Fritter Tree (1978). He was honored with a Writers Guild Award for his work as a writer producer for children's television shows.
5. David Simon: The creator of HBO's series The Wire, David Simon won the MacArthur Fellowship in 2010. He most recently served as writer and executive producer of TV shows Treme and Show Me a Hero.