Every Friday, we choose an alum who has been making headlines—for better or for worse.
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Vijay Iyer ’92:
music, math, MacArthur

Vijay Iyer ’92 majored in math and physics at Yale, then went to the University of California at Berkeley to get his PhD in the cognitive science of music. "I trained for a career in the sciences," he says in a video interview, but "little by little I found myself pulled into this community of artists that valued history and aliveness of jazz."

Now the pianist, composer, and bandleader is in the company of "24 extraoardinarily creative people who inspire us all"—MacArthur Fellows, colloquially (and enviously) known as "genius grant" winners.

Iyer is "forging a new conception of jazz and American creative music" through composition, multidisciplinary collaboration, and "scholarly research on the act of listening," the MacArthur Foundation said in announcing the 2013 fellows on September 24. The latest example: his 2013 album Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project, in which Iyer collaborated with poet Mike Ladd to create words and music "based on the dreams of veterans of color from America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Last April, Iyer headlined the first annual Yale Jazz Festival. In January, he'll join the music faculty at Harvard.

The MacArthur fellows include another Yalie: Tarell Alvin McCraney ’07MFA, a playwright from the School of Drama who is also piling up the awards. In March, McCraney was named one of the first recipients of Yale's new Windham Campbell writing prizes.


Filed under MacArthur fellows, Vijay Iyer, Tarell Alvin McCraney
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