John M. Becker

Mary Bonauto, Alison Bechdel Win MacArthur Genius Grants

Filed By John M. Becker | September 17, 2014 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, The Movement
Tags: Alison Bechdel, genius grant, MacArthur Foundation, Mary Bonauto

mary-bonauto-headshot.jpgMary Bonauto -- the lawyer with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders who's widely regarded as the mother of the marriage equality movement -- and Alison Bechdel -- the cartoonist best known for the lesbian comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For -- have each been awarded the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the "Genius Grant." The honor comes with an unrestricted $625,000 stipend.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation writes:

The MacArthur Fellows Program is intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations. In keeping with this purpose, the Foundation awards fellowships directly to individuals rather than through institutions. Recipients may be writers, scientists, artists, social scientists, humanists, teachers, entrepreneurs, or those in other fields, with or without institutional affiliations. They may use their fellowship to advance their expertise, engage in bold new work, or, if they wish, to change fields or alter the direction of their careers.

The foundation's biography of Bonauto recounts her incredible list of marriage equality achievements, including Baker v. Vermont, the groundbreaking freedom-to-marry lawsuit in the Green Mountain State; Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the transformative case that brought marriage equality to Massachusetts; and numerous challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

"In the name of equal treatment and dignity for all people, and in concert with other litigators and advocates across the country," the foundation writes, "Bonauto is breaking down legal barriers based on sexual orientation and influencing debates about the relationship between the law and momentous social change more broadly."

The MacArthur Foundation's video profiles of Bonauto and Bechdel are after the break.

On Bechdel, the foundation writes:

Alison Bechdel is a cartoonist and graphic memoirist exploring the complexities of familial relationships in multilayered works that use the interplay of word and image to weave sophisticated narratives. Bechdel's command of sequential narrative and her aesthetic as a visual artist was established in her long-running comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For (1983-2008), which realistically captured the lives of women in the lesbian community as they influenced and were influenced by the important cultural and political events of the day.

Garnering a devoted and diverse following, this pioneering work was a precursor to her book-length graphic memoirs. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006) is a nuanced depiction of a childhood spent in an artistic family in a small Pennsylvania town and of her relationship with her father, a high school English teacher and funeral home director. An impeccable observer and record keeper, Bechdel incorporates drawings of archival materials, such as diaries, letters, photographs, and news clippings, as well as a variety of literary references in deep reflections into her own past.

Bechdel composes an intricate, recursive narrative structure that is compelling on both the visual and verbal planes in Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama (2012), a meditation on her relationship with her emotionally distant mother seen through the lens of psychoanalytic theory. As in Fun Home, the images in Are You My Mother? do not always correspond to or illustrate the words; rather, they mutually interpret or often tug against each other, creating a space between them that invites a multiplicity of interpretations. With storytelling that is striking for its conceptual depth and complexity in structure as well as for the deft use of allusion and reference, Bechdel is changing our notions of the contemporary memoir and expanding the expressive potential of the graphic form.


Congratulations to these two fabulous ladies!

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