Columbia native named 2011 MacArthur fellow

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 | 10:13 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Among those honored Tuesday by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation was Columbia native and Hickman High School graduate Peter Hessler.

Hessler is one of 22 total recipients that make up the 2011 class of MacArthur Fellows. He has published three best-selling books and written for the New Yorker magazine.

According to a MacArthur Foundation release, the fellowship awards $500,000 to individuals across a broad spectrum of disciplines to offer recipients support to continue to make original, valuable contributions to society.

The $500,000 is awarded with no-strings-attached over five years, the release said, and is designed to give fellows the unprecedented freedom they need to advance their expertise, start a new project or even change careers.

The point is not to fund institutions, the MacArthur Foundation website said, but to support the people behind today's most creative and original ideas.

"We are once again reminded of the potential individuals have to make a difference in the world and shape our future," said Robert Gallucci, President of the MacArthur Foundation said in the release. "The MacArthur Fellows exemplify how individual creativity and talent can spark new insights and ideas in every imaginable field of human endeavor."

A 1988 graduate of Hickman High School, Hessler graduated from Princeton University in 1992 and studied at the University of Oxford, England, as a Rhodes Scholar.

In 1996 Hessler went to China as a volunteer for the Peace Corps, and from 2000 to 2007 served as Beijing correspondent for the New Yorker, the Foundation website said. He has published numerous articles and three books about China.

Published in 2001, Hessler's first book, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, was awarded the Kiriyama Prize and his 2006 novel, Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present, was a nonfiction National Book Award Finalist.

According to a Q & A in the Denver Westword, Hessler said he intends to use the award to move to Cairo in October and learn Arabic.

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