UArizona professor Manuel Muñoz awarded MacArthur Fellowship
A fiction writer, Muñoz will search for his next muse and use part of his $800,000 stipend to support future students.
University of Arizona professor of English Manuel Muñoz was standing in his kitchen several weeks ago when he received the call of a lifetime from an unknown number. The news? He would soon be awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship.
Muñoz couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"I don't want to say it felt like a joke, but it was too weird and hard to process in the moment," he said. "I was so stunned by what I was hearing that after about five minutes I was answering 'Yes' to questions I hadn't actually comprehended. I just couldn't believe it. I am still thunderstruck. I work with words, but I don't have the words to describe how this feels. I don't want to say 'surreal,' but this just doesn't feel real."
Muñoz is one of 20 writers, researchers, scientists and artists from across the nation named MacArthur Fellows last week. The fellowships are awarded each year by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and are intended to "encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual and professional inclinations."
The fellowships, also known as "genius grants," include an $800,000 stipend intended to support the recipient's work and insight and not a specific project. Nominees are submitted anonymously by leaders in their respective fields.
"He roots his stories in the landscape and culture of his upbringing in a Chicano family of farmworkers who made their living in the fields that feed the rest of the country," the foundation wrote of Muñoz's work. "Muñoz’s nuanced depictions of this world are populated by mothers and sons, U.S.-born citizens and immigrants from Mexico, young gay men, and teenage parents."
A native of Dinuba, California, Muñoz said his work is inspired by the world he knows – and that of his childhood. He earned the MacArthur distinction for his depictions of the culture and lives of Mexican American communities living in the region's Central Valley.
Muñoz is the author of the novel "What You See in the Dark," and two short-story collections, "Zigzagger" and "The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue," which was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. His most recent collection, "The Consequences," offers powerful meditations on racial, gender and class tensions, the unrelenting hardships of agricultural labor, and everyday experiences of loneliness and longing, and was a finalist for the Aspen Words Literary Prize and longlisted for the Story Prize. His stories have also appeared in several journals, and his work was included in both "The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature" and "The Heath Anthology of American Literature."
Muñoz was most recently awarded the 2023 Joyce Carol Oates Prize, and has been recognized with a Whiting Writer’s Award, three O. Henry Awards and included in two editions of "Best American Short Stories." He previously received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts.
Lori Poloni-Staudinger, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, said she is thrilled to see Muñoz named a MacArthur Fellow – a "prestigious acknowledgment of his accomplishments, originality and potential."
"Manuel’s string of accolades for his writing and his recent book 'The Consequences' is impressive," Poloni-Staudinger said. "We are so proud to have him at the University of Arizona and in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences."
In addition to working with undergraduate students in both classes and writing workshops, Muñoz is also a member of UArizona's MFA in Creative Writing Program.
"The creative writing program could not be more thrilled to learn that professor Manuel Muñoz has been recognized with one of the world's most prestigious interdisciplinary prizes – the MacArthur 'Genius' award," said Kate Bernheimer, a professor and director of the MFA program. "Professor Muñoz's mastery of narrative form and centering of underrepresented voices enlarges and enriches the story of America itself. This extraordinary accomplishment reflects the creative writing program's enduring, firm commitment to building communities of empathy, inclusion, exploration and integrity through literary excellence – a commitment central to the mission of the University of Arizona itself."
Muñoz said he is happy to focus on finding inspiration for his next short story project, at his own pace, as a MacArthur Fellow.
"The short story has such a wonderful history and foundation in U.S. letters, and I want to continue to be a contributor to that," he said. "I want to be guided by my creativity and the muse when it strikes me. The work has to speak to me, not to others, and I love that the fellowship is going to give me that liberty."
Although he has no concrete plans for the money, Muñoz said he does want to work with Reedley College in Reedley, California – where his own writing journey began – and Dinuba High School to potentially establish scholarships in his parents' names or find other ways to help students in the coming years at places he called "vital resources" for the local community.
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