Scripps professor Martha Gonzalez awarded ‘Genius grant’

Martha Gonzalez wears a black dress, leaning against a staircase.
Martha Gonzalez is a musician, scholar, artist, activist, and now 2022 MacArthur Fellow. (Courtesy: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

On Oct. 12, the MacArthur Foundation awarded Martha Gonzalez, assistant professor of Chicano/a-Latino/a studies at Scripps College, a 2022 MacArthur Fellowship for her work as a musician, cultural theorist and activist. 

The MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “Genius Grant,” awards $800,000 to “individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction,” per the fellowship’s website. Gonzalez is one of just 25 recipients to receive this year’s award.

The fellowship is recognized for its unrestricted nature, allowing recipients total independence in their creative endeavors. 

At the moment, though, Gonzalez said she doesn’t know exactly what she’ll do with the funds.

“This money is very welcomed, of course, but I don’t necessarily have plans for it just yet,” she said. “It might facilitate some things, it might make some things a bit easier — but generally speaking it’s a little overwhelming because I’m used to working with zero budget.”

However, she noted that the grant would allow her more time to devote to her current projects.

“This will free me up,” she said. “I have recording projects lined up… [in] collaboration with some artists that I’ve been wanting to work with for a while, and I want to also really take time to write,” Gonzalez said. 

Her second book focuses on women and transnational music practice. 

“Professor Gonzalez’s research and accomplishments exemplify the importance and power of interdisciplinarity, creativity, critical thinking and community engagement — all of which are pillars of Scripps’ educational mission,” Vice President of Academic Affairs Amy Marcus-Newhall said in an email to TSL. “We are honored by what she has accomplished and are excited for her future academic and artistic achievements!”

Gonzalez’s work concentrates on music theory and social activism, complemented by her role in the East Los Angeles rock group Quetzal. The band tells stories of society, culture, politics and music of people in struggle from a perspective rooted in feminism and social activism. 

Additionally, she is the director of the Scripps Humanities Institute, where her work centers on how various cultural practices are used around the world as tools of dialogue, healing and self- and community empowerment. 

These themes of empowerment and activism are prominent in Gonzalez’s life and work. 

“I am proud of the fact that, regardless of what spaces I am in, what is most present in my mind is social justice,” Gonzalez said. “Social justice for underserved communities, women, people of color … The abuse of power on these communities, and how I’ve utilized the tools of music in so many different ways in order to push back on some of these ideologies and ways of being in the world.”

Her vital work has not gone unrecognized. In addition to the MacArthur Fellowship, Gonzalez has previously received the Ford and Woodrow Wilson Fellowships and is a Fulbright-Garcia Robles Scholar.

“Professor Gonzalez has expanded our course offerings by designing and teaching classes on popular culture, music and performance, such as Fandango as a De-Colonial Tool and Artvisitas in the Americas,” Gilda Ochoa, chair of the Intercollegiate Department of Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies, said via email. “She has brought so much to our department with her creative productions, transnational approaches, transdisciplinary training and the overall community-centered ethos she embodies.”

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