'Genius award' winners announced Tuesday

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- On Tuesday, the new list of MacArthur ''genius award'' winners will be announced. If you're on it, here's what to expect:

Most likely, you didn't know you were being considered. Winners are often plucked from obscurity, and nominations are secret.

You've been told to wait for a phone call from an acquaintance, but it's a set-up. When you answer, a serious-sounding stranger will ask if you're alone, and if you've heard of the MacArthur Foundation and its famous fellowship. :huh:

You have, of course.

The foundation disavows the term, but everyone else knows the MacArthur as the ''genius award.'' Winning it means never having to prove yourself again -- plus $500,000, no strings attached.

Once a year for five years, $100,000 will be deposited in your bank account. Nobody will check up on you. The idea is to give very smart people five years to focus on their work, without having to worry about money. Spend it as you think best. If buying a Porsche helps you focus, go for it.

Later comes the public announcement, and the flood of congratulatory e-mails, the full-page newspaper ads from your employer, the phone calls from reporters.

Inevitably, from your snarky friends, there will be a string of genius jokes every time you trip or can't work the DVD player.

And what then, in the year before the next class is announced? You may move from ecstasy to quiet satisfaction. The attachment of the term ''genius'' to a MacArthur fellowship tends to highlight the peak moments of accomplishment -- the violin concerto, the novel, the discovery in the lab. Only you will understand how much hard work preceded those moments, how many obstacles and doubts were overcome. The lasting reward may be simply the assurance it was all worthwhile.

If you're fortunate, some things -- the right things -- will change in your life.

And if you're really, really lucky, like Jay Rubenstein, perhaps one year after you win your MacArthur genius award you will be able to look back and say this: It wasn't even the best thing that happened that week.


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