Journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, experimental puppeteer Basil Twist and neuroscientist Beth Stevens are among the 24 winners of this year's "genius grants" from the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The fellowships come with a stipend of $625,000 over five years and allow the recipient to spend the money any way he or she wants, no strings attached.
"These 24 delightfully diverse MacArthur Fellows are shedding light and making progress on critical issues, pushing the boundaries of their fields, and improving our world in imaginative, unexpected ways,” said MacArthur President Julia Stasch.
The 2015 winners have studied everything from the brain to prehistoric Greek societies. One created a university in Africa, another a community organization in Chicago.
The full list of 2015 fellows also includes people making waves in education, health care, biology and other areas of study.
Some have gained fame and fortune for work that, in the case of Coates, put him on the top of best-seller lists for his writing on race. Another winner is playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose play, "Hamilton" has been a hit on Broadway.
Others are relatively unknown, like Marina Rustow, a history professor at Princeton University, who is using the ancient Cairo Geniza texts to shed new light on Jewish life and on the medieval Middle East.