Gordon-Reed Wins MacArthur Grant

The MacArthur Foundation announced yesterday morning that population geneticist Carlos D. Bustamante ’97 and Harvard professor Annette Gordon-Reed have been named 2010 MacArthur Fellows.

They are two of 23 recipients of this year’s “genius grant,” which awards fellows $500,000 over five years.

Gordon-Reed, a 1984 graduate of the Law School, was named to the Harvard faculty last spring.

In the fall of 2011, she will begin teaching as a professor of history in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and at the Law School. She will also hold a professorship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Gordon-Reed won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in history for her book, “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” which follows the bloodline of four generations of a slave family descended from Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson.

Bustamante is currently a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. He studies DNA sequence data to better understand the dynamics and migration of populations and the mechanisms of evolution and natural selection.

“Bustamante is developing a rigorous, quantitative foundation for addressing fundamental questions about genetics and evolution across species...and about the complex origins of human genetic diversity,” according to the MacArthur Foundation’s website.

Recipients are nominated by invited experts, often without knowing that they are being considered for the award. Gordon-Reed said she was completely taken by surprise when she learned two weeks ago that she would be awarded the fellowship.

“I was watching the TV show ‘House’ and the phone rang and it was not who I expected it to be,” she said. Instead, the caller was a representative of the MacArthur Foundation informed her that she had been awarded a fellowship.

“I was completely stunned. It was the furthest thing from my mind. I was in a daze,” Gordon-Reed recalled.

When she first learned of the award, Gordon-Reed was permitted to tell only her husband. She only informed her children Monday night, and the MacArthur Fellows were announced publicly yesterday morning.

Gordon-Reed is currently working on a book documenting another generation of the Hemingses and has plans to write a biography of Thomas Jefferson.

The grant, Gordon-Reed said, will enable her to travel more widely in conducting her research,

“Before, I had to think ‘can I really afford to go down there?’ Now I won’t have to think about it. It’s a tremendous luxury,” Gordon-Reed said.

Gordon-Reed is currently on a fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. Last year, she was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in the Humanities.

“Professor Gordon-Reed’s remarkable work will be read for generations because of its originality, scrupulousness, rigor, and imagination,” said Harvard Law School Dean Martha L. Minow yesterday in a press release.

—Staff writer Zoe A. Y. Weinberg can be reached at zoe.weinberg@college.harvard.edu

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