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Punch Brothers Founder Chris Thile Wins $500,000 Genius Grant

Chris Thiles

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When the MacArthur Foundation calls, you answer!  It was a lesson Punch Brothers leader Chris Thile didn’t learn right away, ignoring numerous attempts at being contacted by the foundation.  With all the election spamming calls, Thile figured it was just another phone bank trying to get his opinion.  But upon further investigation from his tour manager, it dawned on him:  he had just won $500,000 from the MacArthur Foundation to pursue his creative dream.

“I think I must have turned white,” Thile said. “I’ve never felt so internally warm. My heart was racing. All of a sudden, I felt very askew physically. I was trying to catch my breath. I thought, ‘Oh, my God, did I win a MacArthur?'”

And just like that, the musician was half a million dollars richer.

The MacArthur Foundation is infamous for its secretive Genius Grant, a program that gives money to 20-30 individuals who show creative promise and exceptional merit in their given field.  People are anonymously nominated and don’t even know they’re up for the grant until they receive a phone call saying they’ve won. Over the next five years, Thile will receive his $500,000 which he plans to use to fund a chamber music project.

Since its 1981 inception, only 38 other musicians have received aid from the MacArthur Foundation and this year, Thile is the only professional musician on the list.  Other recipients this year include author Junot Diaz, who wrote the Pulitzer prize winning novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” as well as David Finkel, national enterprise editor for the Washington Post.

Jodi Phillips / The New 103.7

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