September 18, 2014
Alison Bechdel wins MacArthur “genius grant”
by Jonah Simonak
Unless you’ve been living a peaceful but uninformed life under a rock for the past decade, you’ve probably heard the name Alison Bechdel. The cartoonist, who made significant literary waves with her 2006 graphic memoir, Fun Home, has just been awarded the MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. This year, the grant is for a mighty $625,000, which recipients may use in whatever way they see fit.
Bechdel is one of 21 recipients, whose careers range from physicists to engineers to poets. Bechdel was quite shocked to hear that she was being awarded the grant, stating, “I thought I was going to faint.” She also touched on how humbling it felt for her to be recognized in this capacity: “To have that kind of confidence put into my work is a huge gift, and I’m going to work very, very hard to live up to those expectations.”
Alison Bechdel first began exploring graphic narratives with her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, which saw publication in 1983, and only ended fairly recently, in 2008. While the comic strip gained a small but loyal following, and was met with critical acknowledgement, it wasn’t until her 2006 memoir Fun Home that Bechdel’s work reached a larger readership. Fun Home was especially significant for the conceptual ways in which Bechdel toyed with the genre. These innovations have helped banish the longstanding (but largely unfounded) notion that graphic narratives don’t deserve the same consideration as traditional literature.
She successfully followed up Fun Home with a second memoir, Are You My Mother?, in which Bechdel continued to push the boundaries of the graphic memoir. In Are You My Mother? she notably pairs images and text that don’t necessarily belong together, in the hopes that the reader might draw a more layered interpretation from the work.
The 2014 MacArthur Fellow is also known for the famous Bechdel Test, which determines how male-centric a film is. If you don’t know how the test works, it’s pretty simple, and very effective. After watching the film, ask yourself the following questions:
A. Does it have two female characters?
B. Who talk to each other?
C. About something other than a man?
Unfortunately, a lot of films don’t pass the test.
We’re excited to see what Bechdel creates next, especially with the freedom $625,000 can grant