Now it's official: 'The Wire' is a work of genius

David Simon, the show's creator, has been awarded a grant normally reserved for pioneering scientists

Fans all over the world have been saying it for years. But now David Simon, the creator of The Wire, the hit television show that took us into Baltimore's drug-addled underworld over five seasons and 60 episodes, has it in writing from as unimpeachable a source as you could think of: he is a genius.

More precisely, he has been given one of 23 grants handed out this year by the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation in Chicago. Each grant bestows a foundation fellowship on the winner and pays them $500,000 (£300,000) over five years. And because they are handed out to an unpredictable list of brilliant people with no specific entry process or criteria, they have earned a simple nickname that indicates the extraordinary prestige attached: the "genius" grants.

A mildly astonished Simon struggled to come to terms with the honour yesterday. "I've looked at past years' lists and there are people contending with fundamental environmental issues and trying to deal with socio-economic inequality – real tangible, make-the-world-better stuff," he told the Los Angeles Times. "So while I value storytelling, I feel a little bit of a nagging notion of shame pulling on my shirtsleeves."

While production ended more than two years ago, The Wire still has a fiercely loyal following. It achieved a reach comparable to hits like The West Wing even though its subject matter was often dark and jarring. For the city of Baltimore it was advertising that no tourist office would commission.

Simon was one in a typically diverse range of winners. Those honoured yesterday also included David Cromer, an actor and director well known for his commitment to revivals of classics and off-Broadway productions in New York, as well as a sculptor, an animator, a fiction writer and notable scientists specialising in fields as diverse as tumour growth and DNA research.

"They are explorers and risk takers, contributing to their fields and to society in innovative, impactful ways," the MacArthur Foundation's president, Robert Gallucci, said. "They provide us all with inspiration and hope for the future." MacArthur was an insurance tycoon and philanthropist who died in 1978.

There are no strings attached to the money, allowing recipients full leeway on how they spend it. Simon indicated yesterday that his first instinct was to give it to charities, most probably organisations committed to improving the inner city in Baltimore, where he lives when he is not shooting new episodes of the television series Treme in New Orleans.

Cromer joked that he plans to spend the cash on buying cake. Taking a more serious tone, he said having the grant will enable him to think of projects that may be more artistically than commercially viable. "It purchases you freedom," he noted. "I can do things now that aren't necessarily going to generate income."

Simon concurred. The Foundation's "stamp of approval makes it easier to argue for other stories that might not otherwise get told by the entertainment industry," he commented. "That's very valuable." He went on: "It makes it easier to go into the room with the network and argue against doing the usual thing in television."

And he does have plans. With Ed Burns, with whom he co-created The Wire, he is exploring a project centred on the Haymarket bombing in Chicago in 1880, which profoundly coloured the American union movement, as well as what he calls a long-term effort to develop scripts about the birth of the CIA in 1947. And he says he is working on a book about the drug economy in Baltimore in the Fifties and Sixties.

The Foundation cited Simon for his full opus of television dramas, saying that they viewed urban life "through the lens of a hard-edged, cautiously optimistic realism".

Cromer, 45, is best remembered in New York for staging Thornton Wilder's Our Town, on an off-Broadway stage with a hugely successful two-year run that ended just three weeks ago. He is now preparing a revival of Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth on Broadway to open a year from now starring Nicole Kidman. He was cited for "reinvigorating classic American plays with a spirit and urgency that eschews nostalgia and provides audiences with unexpectedly fresh and compelling theatrical experiences".

Genius grants: Five more MacArthur winners

Jason Moran, jazz pianist

The 35-year-old draws on music from across genres, incorporating elements from classical to rock and funk, to create his distinctive jazz sound. He cites the hip-hop group Public Enemy as one of his great influences for fusing music with social commentary. Moran, from New York, has also incorporated new technology for imaginative multimedia performances. He has been described by The New York Times as one of the most independent minds working in jazz.

Matthew Carter, font designer

The oldest of the grant recipients at 72, Carter, who is British, is one of the most celebrated font designers. He has created 250 individual fonts, including such universally used styles as Georgia and Verdana, with what the designers called "staggering" variety. In reaction to his award, he reflected: "They're saying to me, you've done all this work... Now do more. Do better. It's very nice at my age to be told by someone that we expect more from you."

Carole Padden, sign language analyst

No deaf person has ever won a MacArthur grant before. Padden, 55, became the first thanks to her work as an analyst of the evolution of sign languages. Known in particular for work on a Bedouin sign language used in a remote part of Israel, she "demystifies" her subject, the citation for the grant says, "and opens windows of understanding". Padden says that the award "will help me do the kind of work that I've dreamed about doing".

Marla Spivak, entomologist

The title barely captures Marla Spivak's work: it is her job to protect the honey bee from destruction by disease. Her research has led her to breed much hardier varieties of a species essential to agriculture – and she has educated beekeepers around the world. She called the award "a huge opportunity" that would allow her to implement her ideas "in much more creative ways".

Kelly Benoit-Bird, marine biologist

She uses sophisticated sound equipment to examine the behaviour of ocean creatures and to address long-unanswered questions about how the food chain works under the waves. The use of sonar equipment allows scientists to map the movement of animals at depths where humans are unable to go. By doing so, the aim is to unravel some of the mysteries of the food web in the sea and work out how changes to habitat can affect this. Her work has included investigating how dolphins hunt their prey in small co-ordinated groups. Explaining her work, Ms Benoit-Bird, 34, said: "I'm interested in how they make a living, how they find their food, while they try to avoid becoming someone else's food."

Suggested Topics
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Graduate Sales Executive

17.5k + Commission (£18.5k after probation period): ESI Media: You will be res...

PPC Account Managers

£25k - £30k (DOE): Guru Careers: Two expert PPC Account Managers are needed to...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game