October 27, 2021

PU Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor Wins Prestigious $625K MacArthur Grant

“GENIUS GRANT” WINNER: Historian and writer Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a Princeton University African American studies professor, has been awarded a 2021 MacArthur Fellowship for her “powerful critiques of the political and economic forces underlying racial inequality.” (Photo courtesy of John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

By Donald Gilpin

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, historian, writer, and Princeton University professor of African American studies, has been awarded a 2021 MacArthur Fellowship, commonly known as a “genius grant.” 

The prestigious award, bestowed this year on 25 scientists, artists, and scholars from across the country for their exceptional creativity, past accomplishments, and future potential, includes $625,000 in grants over a five-year period, funds that the recipients are free to spend however they want.

The MacArthur Foundation noted Taylor’s “powerful critiques of the political and economic forces underlying racial inequality” and her analysis of “the role of social movements in transforming society.”

Eddie Glaude Jr., Princeton University African American studies professor and department chair, stated, “What wonderful news! This award rightly recognizes Professor Taylor’s pathbreaking scholarship that has shaped our understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement and redefined how we think about the history of housing policy in this country.”

Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber emphasized Taylor’s “bold and original scholarship [that] has established her as one of America’s most influential commentators on questions of race and social justice.”   

Taylor has written extensively on race and politics, Black social movements and organizing, and radical activism and politics. “Taylor brings her experiences as an activist and organizer for housing rights to her scholarship, combining deep understanding of the concrete manifestations of inequality — such as substandard housing, over-policing, and high unemployment — with fine-grained analysis and historical research,” according to the 2021 MacArthur Fellows Program.

Taylor’s books include From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation (2016) and Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate
Industry Undermined Black Home Ownership
(2019), which was a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in History. She is also the editor of How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective (2017) and a writer and columnist for The New Yorker, as well as the writer of essays published in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Paris Review, and Jacobin, among other media outlets.

“With an ability to synthesize her scholarship into accessible and engaging talks, essays, and opinion pieces,” the MacArthur Foundation wrote, “Taylor is also a well-known and trusted voice on such pressing issues as economic precarity, police violence, and the role of social movements in transforming society. Through her work in a variety of platforms, Taylor helps us understand why racial inequality in the United States is so devastatingly intractable while offering new visions of justice and democracy with the power to improve people’s lives.”

Taylor was appointed distinguished lecturer for the Organization of American Historians in 2020, received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2021, and is among the inaugural cohort of Freedom Scholars funded by the Marguerite Casey Foundation and Group Health Foundation.

In an email earlier this week, Taylor reflected on how the award might affect her life and career.  “It has the potential to allow your work to be seen and perhaps be seen by new and different audiences,” she wrote. 

Also, she continued, “The resources that are opened up as a result create new possibilities in my research and work. I don’t have to worry about applying for grants and such. I can just do my work.”

Taylor is currently working on a book about the fracturing of Black America in the generation after the Civil Rights movement. “The development of class and political tensions within Black America after the cohering glue of Jim Crow and other forms of institutional racism and the fight against them satisfied one set of political demands but exposed the limitations of race unity,” she said. “I’m interested in how these dynamics expressed themselves through the long Reagan era from the late 1970s through the early 1990s.”

Taylor received a B.A. from Northeastern Illinois University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Northwestern University. She joined the Princeton University faculty in 2014 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.