Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Writer and radio producer Daniel Alarcón, who received a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2004, was named a recipient of a 2021 MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “genius grant.”

Alarcón’s work explores social, cultural, and linguistic ties that connect individuals across Spanish-speaking communities in the Americas. His work spans multiple mediums and languages including fiction, nonfiction, English, Spanish, print, and audio.

While his fiction work is set in Latin-American countries, none are directly named, and his novels Lost City Radio (2007) and At Night We Walk in Circles (2013) are set in the wake of political violence—the former focusing on a radio program for and about missing people and the latter on the experiences of a traveling ensemble of performers. Both illustrate ways to cope with trauma and establish community.

Alarcón’s most recent story collection, The King Is Always Above the People (2017), focuses on the themes of immigration, betrayal, love, and more.

In 2012, Alarcón co-founded Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language podcast that combines investigative journalism, interviews, and storytelling to explore a wide range of topics from migrants in the United States to “killer bees” in Brazil.

The podcast’s audience has grown exponentially, with more than eight million downloads a year, while also being used educationally by aspiring journalists and novice Spanish-language learners.

Alarcón has recently expanded his audio projects with a Spanish weekly news podcast called El hilo, for which he is the editorial director. The podcast explores a multitude of relevant topics across the Americas over the past week. Past episodes have focused on the United States’ 2020 presidential election and the COVID-19 crisis in South America.

Alarcón graduated from Columbia University in 1999. In addition to his MFA from Iowa, he also spent time as a teacher and counselor at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. He is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism at Columbia University, and he is a contributing writer at The New Yorker, covering Latin America.

The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. Each fellowship comes with a stipend of $625,000, paid out over five years.

Recent UI-affiliated recipients include former instructor and cultural theorist Fred Moten (2020), alumna and poet Ellen Bryant Voigt (2015), and alumnus and playwright Samuel D. Hunter (2014).