Mandolin player Chris Thile kept getting phone calls from the 312 area code, refusing to answer them because he assumed they were political robocalls. Finally, after listening to one of the mysterious messages—"Don't tell anyone about this call"—he had his tour manager look up the number. "It appears to be from something called the MacArthur Foundation," his manager told him. "I think I must have turned white," Thile recalls. "I thought, 'Oh my God, did I win a MacArthur?'" Yes, he had, along with the 22 other recipients of this year's "genius grants," reports the AP—which accidentally broke MacArthur's midnight embargo with its reporting of the winners, Playbook notes.
The grants pay winners, who are nominated and selected in secret, $500,000 over five years to pursue creative dreams. Thile may fund a bluegrass quintet chamber music project with his. Other winners will write books, study the pre-Civil War South, and work with parasitic worms, among other things. Winner Junot Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, reflected after winning: "It would never have dawned on me to think such a thing was possible for me" during his early years in New Jersey, "struggling with poverty, struggling with English." Click for the complete list of this year's geniuses.