I suppose there’s a good reason why the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation avoids calling their Fellows Program “Genius Grants.” Geniuses constantly have to prove themselves. Fellows still have room to grow.

Today the MacArthur Foundation announced their 2009 Fellows in science and the arts. The Fellows are recommended and selected by a nominating committee. Each fellowship comes with a $500,000 stipend paid out over a period of 5 years. The fellowships are unrestricted and are not based on past work but are an investment in the person’s “potential, originality, and insight.” The program allows the fellows the freedom to exercise their creative instincts (i.e. pay their bills), “for the benefit of human society.”

Haitian-born novelist Edwidge Danticat is the 2nd MacArthur Fellow I’ve had the opportunity to meet, chat and even share an email. E-Notes predicts a Nobel prize in her future. I’ll second that. I’ll always remember being impressed by her calm, grounded spirit; an “old soul” the elders would say, but not too old. I noticed this about Danticat from the moment she was introduced on “Oprah” when “Breath, Eyes, Memory” was selected for the book club. I don’t believe she was even 30 years old at the time. In her interview today on NPR’s “Tell Me More” with Michel Martin, Danticat says she plans to use the stipend to “upgrade” the family’s health insurance since she and her husband are both self-employed. They have two young children.

A complete list of the twenty four 2009 MacArthur Fellows is here.