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The Genius of Dr. Tiya Miles

University of Michigan professor recently won a MacArthur Fellowship “Genius” Award

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Imagine receiving a telephone call out of the blue, and hearing that you have won $500,000 because a prestigious foundation believes you’re a “genius.”

That’s exactly what happened to Tiya Miles, a University of Michigan professor, wife and mother of three young children.

As Director of U of M’s Department of Afro-American Studies, Dr. Miles is one of 22 recipients of a MacArthur Fellowship

Nicknamed the “Genius Award,” it is paid in quarterly installments over five years to American citizens “who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future,” according to The MacArthur Fellowship website.  And the money can be used for anything the winner chooses.

“I was shocked and amazed, transported into some kind of dream space,” says Miles, 42, as sunshine beams into her glass-walled, corner office overlooking the Ann Arbor campus.

Soften-spoken, radiant and wearing a warm brown sweater-slacks ensemble, with a long flow of dreds, Miles says she was home when her husband answered a mysterious phone call for her.  She recalls:

“The representative from the MacArthur Foundation asked, ‘Are you sitting down?’ That’s when my heart started beating. I sat on the stairs and he told me the news. I screamed in the poor man’s ear. I couldn’t believe it!”

Adding to the drama: Miles has no idea who nominated her. The Foundation relies on a network of top-secret nominators who are immune to outside influence. Miles wishes she could thank the person who nominated her.  

“It’s a dream! Especially for someone like myself who is doing work that’s on the margins…of what’s expected in their field. It’s very validating and really incredible.”

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