Awards, People

Two Berkeley alums win MacArthur ‘genius’ grants

Gene Luen Yang, Josh Kun

Two Berkeley alumni have won MacArthur fellowships — unsolicited, no-strings-attached awards of $625,000 given to exceptionally creative people. The two — Gene Luen Yang, a Bay Area graphic novelist, and Josh Kun, a cultural critic in Los Angeles — are among 23 fellows named by the MacArthur Foundation last night.

(MacArthur Foundation video)

Gene Luen Yang studied engineering at Berkeley, earning his BS in 1995, before going on to make his name as a graphic novelist and cartoonist “whose work for young adults demonstrates the potential of comics to broaden our understanding of diverse cultures and people,” according to the MacArthur announcement. A San Jose resident, Yang wrote full-length graphic novels, serial comics and short stories exploring multicultural themes while teaching computer science and serving as director of information services at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland from 1998 to 2015.

He is one of the writers of DC Comics’ New Super-Man, which features a new Chinese protagonist, Kenan Kong from Shanghai, according to his MacArthur bio. Yang “aims to change our understanding of different cultures and people, and is an advocate for diverse characters and diverse writers in children’s and young adult literature,” his bio states.

Earlier this year, he was selected as the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

(MacArthur Foundation video)

Josh Kun earned his Ph.D. in ethnic studies at Berkeley in 1999 and is a professor of communication at USC’s Annenberg School.  As a cultural historian, he explores “the ways in which the arts and popular culture are conduits for cross-cultural exchange,” according to his MacArthur citation.

“In work that spans academic scholarship, exhibitions, and performances, Kun unearths and brings to life forgotten historical narratives through finely grained analyses of material and sonic manifestations of popular culture. He complicates our understanding of the evolution of racial and ethnic identity in America…” the MacArthur bio says.

In two recent books, To Live and Dine in LA and Songs in the Key of Los Angeles, he “focuses on bringing present-day communities together around historical intersections of cultural expression.”

Altogether, Californians won 10 of this year’s 23 MacArthurs.

Read Gene Luen Yang’s bio on the MacArthur website.

Read Josh Kun’s bio on the MacArthur website.