Advertisement

Taylor Branch on the MacArthur genius grant

To follow up on the news about David Simon's MacArthur "genius" grant, The Baltimore Sun asked previous winners, including author Taylor Branch about the award's impact. It was sobering to hear Branch's take, which reflected the economics of publishing: "99 percent of the value of the MacArthur to me was the money." Here's what Branch, a Pulitzer Prize winner whose works include a trilogy about Martin Luther King Jr., told reporter Mary Carole McCauley. (Keep in mind that he won in 1991, after the first book of his trilogy, "Parting the Waters" was published. At the time, he was the father of two young children.)

"My first book took me six years to write, and no publisher will give you an advance that will cover six years of living expenses.

Advertisement

"I had to finance all my research and travel expenses from my advance. I was always working part-time jobs and constantly trying to get my publisher to give me more money. The second book took 10 years to write and the third book took me eight, so winning the MacArthur was a godsend. I still had to scramble for money, but I wasn't scrambling nearly as bad."

Sad that such an accomplished author had to scramble for money. We read a lot about million-dollar advances and first-time authors hitting it big, but this is a reminder that the reality is much grimmer.

Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam

Advertisement
Advertisement