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Katherine Boo, BC'88, Camilo Vergara, GSAS '77, Named MacArthur Fellows

Katherine Boo

Katherine Boo, a 1988 Barnard graduate, now a Washington Post investigative journalist, has been named one of 24 recipients of the MacArthur Fellowships for 2002, a "genius" award bestowed annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Fellowships grant $500,000 in "no strings attached" support over the next five years.

Boo's work as a journalist and editor has encompassed national and international issues, but most of her recent efforts focus on stories of those struggling with economic dislocation, or mental or physical disabilities. In 2000, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for her Washington Post series called "Invisible Lives, Invisible Deaths," exposing inadequate care to the mentally disabled in the Washington, D.C., social service system.

"Among the most influential journalists writing about contemporary social conditions, Boo's reportage is characterized by its expansive research, elegant presentation, and empathy for her subjects," the MacArthur Foundation stated in announcing Boo's selection. "Through rigorous background research, Boo's articles frame the magnitude of these problems within the larger society. More importantly, she conveys the often-poignant personal tragedies behind the statistics…. Her stories have catalyzed effortsKatherine Boo, BC'88, Camilo Vergara, GSAS '77, Named MacArthur Fellows to improve the quality of these support services. Her extended profiles of individuals struggling at the invisible margins of society open a powerful journalistic window into the obstacles faced by many."

Camilo Jose Vergara

Boo, who received her A.B. summa cum laude from Barnard in 1988, subsequently went to work as a writer and editor for the Washington City Paper and The Washington Monthly (1988-92) before joining the staff of The Washington Post. At the Post, she began by writing and editing for the "Sunday Outlook" section until she joined the investigative team in 1994. Boo also writes regularly for The New Yorker. She is currently at work on a book about low-income families and children in Washington, D.C., she has followed since 1996.

"We are committed to nurturing those who are a source of new knowledge and ideas, have the courage to challenge inherited orthodoxies and to take intellectual, scientific, and cultural risks," said Jonathan F. Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation. "For over two decades, the MacArthur Fellows Program has been a vital part of the Foundation's efforts to recognize and support individuals who lift our spirits, illuminate human potential, and shape our collective future."

Columbia alumus and former Revson Fellow (1986-87) Camilo Jose Vergara has also been named a MacArthur Fellow for 2002. A photographer-ethnographer, he uses time-lapse images to chronicle the transformation of urban landscapes across America. Trained as a sociologist, Vergara, 58, reaches into the disciplines of architecture, photography, urban planning, history and anthropology for tools to present the gradual erosion of late 19th- and 20th-century architectural grandeur in urban neighborhoods, their subsequent neglect and abandonment and scattered efforts at gentrification.

Repeatedly photographing, sometimes over the course of decades, the same structures and neighborhoods, Vergara records both large-scale and subtle changes in the visual landscape of cities and inner cities in the United States. Sequences reveal, for example, trees growing in abandoned libraries and decrepit laborer housing swallowed by advancing foliage. Over the years, Vergara has amassed a rich archive of several thousand photographs that are a rare and important cache of American history. These images, monuments to the survival and reformation of American cities, are a unique visual study; they also inform the process of city planning by highlighting the constant remodeling of urban space.

Vergara received a B.A. (1968) in sociology from the University of Notre Dame and an M.A. (1977) in sociology from Columbia, where he also completed the course work for his Ph.D. His books include Silent Cities: The Evolution of the American Cemetery (1989, with Kenneth Jackson), The New American Ghetto (1995), American Ruins (1999), Unexpected Chicagoland (2001), and Twin Towers Remembered (2001). He is currently working on a project documenting churches in American ghettos. Vergara was a Revson Fellow at Columbia University (1986-87) and a visiting scholar at the Getty Research Institute (1996). He received the Robert E. Park Award of the American Sociological Association for The New American Ghetto in 1997.

Another former Revson Fellow (1995-96), Stanley Nelson, was also selected as a 2002 MacArthur Fellow. As a Revson Fellow, Nelson spent a year in the urban leadership development program at Columbia. Nelson, 48, is a documentary filmmaker. His 1999 film, "The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords," which depicts the often neglected role of black journalists in chronicling American history. was awarded Best Documentary Film at the San Francisco Film Festival and the Freedom of Expression Award at the Sundance Film Festival. He has received numerous other awards, including the duPont-Columbia Silver Baton and the CINE Golden Eagle Award.

Including this year's Fellows, 635 people, ranging in age from 18 to 82, have been named MacArthur Fellow since the inception of the program in 1981.

Boo and Vergara join the company of 20 other individuals associated with Columbia University as faculty members or students since the program's inception in 1981.

Published: Sep 25, 2002
Last modified: Sep 26, 2002

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