MacArthur Genius Grants

Some old guy and the man who created "The Wire" are among this year's recipients.

The MacArthur Foundation genius grants for 2010 have been announced and the list, once again, looks impressive.   But a few stand out as, well, odd:

Matthew Carter, 72, type designer, Cambridge, Mass. Crafting letterforms of unequaled elegance and precision for a range of applications and media that span the migration of text from the printed page to computer screens.

David Simon, 50, author, screenwriter and producer, Baltimore, Md. Crafting richly textured narratives that engage wide-ranging audiences and confront daunting challenges facing America’s urban centers.

Simon, of course, is the creator of “The Wire,” a wonderful series that many extol as the greatest dramatic program in the history of television.

Carter, I’ve never heard of.  But he’s 72 years old!

If, in fact, “the fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment, but rather an investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential” it strikes me as odd to award one to someone in his eighth decade.  Especially if you’re going to dole out the grant over a four year period!

Odds are that Simon is going to have a lot of creative years ahead of him.  But he’s the guy who did “The Wire.” Shouldn’t he be able to get a studio to back his next effort with that on the old CV?

It’s a private foundation and they can do whatever they want with their money.  But these just seem a little off given the stated purpose of the awards.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Burgess says:

    Oh, James!

    Seventy-two isn’t necessarily old when accomplishments are mental Unless you can point to Mr Carter’s suffering from dementia, I don’t see why he’s incapable of designing new type faces. It’s not as though he’s trying to scale Mt. Everest, after all.

    As for David Simon, yes, The Wire was extraordinary (up to the last season). But Simon was also responsible for the arguably better Homicide: Life on the Street, some 20 years ago. He’s probably got some grist left in his mill.

  2. Herb says:

    “Odds are that Simon is going to have a lot of creative years ahead of him. But he’s the guy who did “The Wire.” ”

    He’s not just the guy who did The Wire. Check out some of his books, “Homicide” or “The Corner,” either one, though I’d vote for “Homicide.” You read that one and it’s no surprise he got a genius grant. The only surprise is why he didn’t get one earlier.

  3. sam says:

    I’ll let the “he’s 72” slide and chalk it up to young punkery.

    Matthew Carter (born in London in 1937) is a type designer. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States. Carter’s career in type design has witnessed the transition from physical metal type to digital type. He was named a 2010 MacArthur Fellow.

    Carter eventually returned to London where he became a freelancer as well as the typographic advisor to Crosfield Electronics, distributors of Photon phototypesetting machines. Carter designed many typefaces for Mergenthaler Linotype as well. Under Linotype, Carter created well known typefaces such as the 100-year replacement typeface for Bell Telephone Company. Bell Centennial.

    In 1981, Carter and his colleague Mike Parker created Bitstream Inc. This digital type foundry is currently one of the largest suppliers of type. He left Bitstream in 1991 to form the Carter & Cone type foundry with Cherie Cone. Matthew Carter focuses on improving many typefaces’ readability. He designs specifically for Apple and Microsoft computers. Georgia and Verdana are two fonts that have been created primarily for viewing on computer monitors. Carter has designed type for publications such as Time, The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Boston Globe, Wired, and Newsweek. He is a member of Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI,) is a senior critic for Yale’s Graphic design program, has served as chairman of ATypI, and is an ex officio member of the board of directors of the Society of Typographic Aficionados (SOTA).

    Carter has won numerous awards for his significant contributions to typography and design, including an honoris causa Doctorate of Humane Letters from the Art Institute of Boston, an AIGA medal in 1995, and the 2005 SOTA Typography Award. A retrospective of his work, “Typographically Speaking, The Art of Matthew Carter,” was exhibited at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in December 2002.

    In 2007, Carter designed a new variant of the typeface Georgia for use in the graphical user interface of the Bloomberg Terminal.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    Typography? I assume he was paid for his work but shouldn’t we be investing in geniuses who solve problems like cancer, energy, and the like? Then again maybe I just don’t appreciate a good font enough to call it genius.

  5. john personna says:

    I don’t get the crazy snarks. If you live to 72 in England, you have a life expectancy of 17.2 more years, if I’m reading the tables correctly.

    And then what are geniuses for? If they are enhancing the richness of our world, then typefaces do that … for those of us who read.

  6. Steve Plunk says:

    jp, You complain about snark yet add your own? Nice.

  7. john personna says:

    Heh, I guess I did.