The $500,000 fellowships were announced Tuesday by the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Of the 24 recipients, nine are still in their 30s.
"This is not just an award for past accomplishment (but) for the potential to do more creative things in the future," said Bob Gallucci, the foundation's president.
Jerry Mitchell, 50, a reporter with The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Miss., has spent two decades investigating slayings committed during the American Civil Rights-era.
His reporting resulted in a 1994 conviction in the 1963 murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. He said the money will allow him to take a leave of absence from the paper to focus on the 1964 slayings of three civil rights workers - the so-called "Mississippi Burning" case.
"People are dying," said Mitchell. "The window is shutting pretty quickly."
Elyn Saks, 53, said the money will allow her to continue educating people about the lives of those with severe mental illness. Saks, a law professor at the University of Southern California, wrote a book about her own struggles with schizophrenia, called "The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness."
Rebecca Onie, who co-founded the Boston-based Project HEALTH, said the award might prompt others to work to improve the health of low-income families.
For Timothy Barrett, the award will make it easier for him to keep the craft of papermaking alive. He said the grant will also help him pay tribute to craftsmen of old who never wrote down how they made paper.
"I'm really eager to see that they not be forgotten," he said.
A complete list of the 24 recipients of the MacArthur Foundation "genius grants":
- Lynsey Addario, 35, photojournalist, Istanbul, Turkey. Creating a visual record of major conflicts and humanitarian crisis of the 21st century.
- Maneesh Agrawala, 37, computer vision technologist, Berkeley, Calif. Designing visual interfaces that enhance ability to synthesize and comprehend complex, digital information.
- Timothy Barrett, 59, Iowa City, Iowa. A papermaker and paper historian preserving and enhancing the art of hand-papermaking.
- Mark Bradford, 47, Los Angeles. Mixed media artist who incorporates every day items from urban environments into abstract art.
- Edwidge Danticat, 40, Miami. Novelist whose depictions of lives of Haitian immigrants chronicle the power of human resistance and endurance.
- Rackstraw Downes, 69, New York. Painter whose minutely landscapes explore the intersection between the built and the natural world.
- Esther Duflo, 36, Cambridge, Mass. Economist who analyzes poverty in South Asia and Africa and improving policies aid efforts designed to improve lives.
- Deborah Eisenberg, 63, New York. Short story writer whose work depicts people coming to terms with personal relationships and struggling with the changing social context in which the relationships occur.
- Lin He, 35, Berkeley, Calif. Molecular biologist advancing understanding of the role of microRNAs in the development of cancer.
- Peter Huybers, 35, Cambridge, Mass. Climate scientist developing theories that explain climate change.
- James Longley, 37, Seattle. Filmmaker who explores the historical and cultural dimensions of conflicts in the Middle East through the stories of ordinary families.
- L. Mahadevan, 44, Cambridge, Mass. Applied mathematician investigating principles underlying the behavior of complex systems to address such questions as how flags flutter.
- Heather McHugh, 61, Seattle. Poet who uses such wordplay as puns and rhymes in intricately patterned compositions.
- Jerry Mitchell, 50, Jackson, Miss. Investigative newspaper reporter whose work has led to prosecutions in decades-old Civil Rights-era slayings.
- Rebecca Onie, 32, Boston. Health services innovator who helped build a program links college volunteers with medical professionals to improve health care for low-income patients.
- Richard Plum, 48, New Haven, Conn. Ornithologist who uses paleontology, developmental biology and optical physics to address questions about avian development, evolution and behavior.
- John A. Rogers, 42, Urbana, Ill. An applied physicist who is a leader in developing flexible electronic devices.
- Elyn Saks, 43, Los Angeles. A law school professor whose writings and her own struggles with schizophrenia challenges popular notions about severe mental illness.
- Jill Seaman, 57, Old Fangak, Sudan. Physician devoted to delivering and improving treatment for infectious diseases in the remote, impoverished area of southern Sudan.
- Beth Shapiro, 33, University Park, Pa. Evolutionary biologist whose research focuses on tracing the population history of recently extinct or threatened species.
- Daniel Sigman, 40, Princeton, N.J. Biogeochemist examining the forces that have shaped the ocean's fertility and earth's climate over the past 2 million years.
- Mary Tinetti, 58, New Haven, Conn. Geriatric physician focusing on accidents involving the elderly and identifying risk factors that contribute to morbidity due to falls.
- Camille Utterback, 39, San Francisco. Artist who uses digital technologies to create works that redefine how viewers experience and interact with art.
- Theodore Zoli, 43, New York. Bridge engineer who has made major technological advances to protect transportation infrastructure when there is a disaster.