The MacArthur Foundation logo.

Image: The MacArthur Foundation

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has just released the list of this year’s 24 MacArthur Genius Grant winners, a prestigious award that comes with a hefty cash prize. The award goes to select individuals who show “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” The Foundation also funds media, culture, and social endeavors.

This year, the list of winners is a good one, reaching from writers and artists to activists and chemists. Winners are notified by phone and allowed to tell only one other person until the news goes public, a rule artist Nicole Eisenman had trouble following: “I split my person into like eight to 10 people. I had to tell them, and they had really wonderful reactions,” Ms. Eisenman said.

The award comes with a $625,000 stipend spread out over 5 years—and the money also comes with a “no strings attached” rule that the Foundation takes quite seriously. “They don’t have to report to us. They can use the funds any way they see fit,” says Cecilia A. Conrad, managing director of the Foundation.

Winners include William Dichtel, a chemist at Cornell University whose work pioneered assembly of molecules into potential electronic, optical, and energy-storage devices. Ben Lerner, a novelist and poet, also won; as did Ta-Nehisi Coates, author and social critic, who said that while he wanted to be “cool” during his call from the Foundation, found the act of actually being cool pretty difficult.

The money is meant to provide some much-needed “breathing-room” for the winners, in whom the Foundation sees great things already happening with the potential for more. The Foundation wants to give the winners the opportunity to continue to do wonderful works without the added pressure of financial stress.

But the best part of the grant isn’t the money, says Ms. Eisenman. For her, the validation from her peers and vote of confidence are the most meaningful part of her win.

Click here for a complete list of winners.