Idaho Playwright Wins $625,000 MacArthur 'Genius' Grant

Sep 17, 2014

Idaho native Samuel Hunter is one of 21 recipients of this year’s MacArthur Fellowship, commonly known as genius grants. Just in his early 30s, the Moscow native has already made a mark on the nation’s theater scene. He’s won numerous awards for his work including the prestigious Obie Award in 2011 for his play “A Bright New Boise.”

Samuel D. Hunter
Credit Courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

The MacArthur grant will give Hunter $625,000 over five years. The MacArthur Foundation describes these grants as “no strings attached.” The idea is for recipients -- who come from areas including the arts, sciences, business and politics -- to pursue their own creative vision without having to worry about paying the bills.  

The Foundation describes Hunter as “a playwright who crafts moving portraits of unlikely protagonists and explores the human capacity for empathy through the prism of his characters’ struggles.”

The description continues:

“…within the nondescript confines of staff break rooms, cramped apartments, and retirement homes inhabited by ordinary people in search of more meaningful human connections. Despite the stark realism of his settings, Hunter leavens his plays with humor and compassion for the lives he depicts, while juxtaposing the banal circumstances of his characters with literary allusions and larger themes of faith and doubt.” – macfound.org

Hunter sets much of his work in Idaho though there is often little in them specific to his home state. His plays have been performed in some of the top theaters around the country. Boise Contemporary Theater has done several, both as fully produced main-season shows, and as part of its reading series of new works known as 5X5. BCT produced the world premier of Hunter's "A Permanent Image" in 2011 and artistic director Matthew Cameron Clark has directed four of Hunter's works.

"To say that 'Sam Hunter is deserving of a Genius Grant' is an understatement' is itself an understatement," Clark says. "I couldn’t be happier for Sam. His body of work is already stunningly impressive, a collection of beautiful, funny, moving and surprising plays that feature characters we might resist at first but come to understand and love. He is doing as much for our ability to empathize as he is to advance the relevance of theater in America."  

Find reporter Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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