Janelle Monáe invented an android persona named Cindi Mayweather for her first two albums. But for her latest album, Dirty Computer, she revealed more of herself: a 33-year-old activist, pansexual, African-American female artist trying to have her say and find her way in contemporary America. “You were dirty if you looked different,” says the narrator of the futuristic 45-minute video “emotion picture” Monáe released as a companion to the album. “You were dirty if you refused to live the way they dictated. You were dirty if you showed any form of opposition at all.” Her album draws on the conventions of dystopian science fiction, plus the full range of her musical arsenal, to promote a more inclusive society, a concern reflected in the leading roles she has played in the films Moonlight, Hidden Figures and, coming this December, Welcome to Marwen.
John Krasinski was pitched A Quiet Place—a film about a family’s attempt to survive on an Earth populated by lethal noise-targeting aliens—just after he and his wife, the actress Emily Blunt, had their second daughter. I was “an open nerve of emotions and fears,” but the timing couldn’t have been better, he said. “I couldn’t help but obsess over the idea that this story could be so much more than just a scary movie. It could actually be one of the best metaphors for parenthood ever.” Thus he not only co-wrote the script and took the lead male role, he also directed a cast that included his wife, as well. Stephen King hailed the resulting film as “an extraordinary piece of work. Terrific acting, but the main thing is the SILENCE, and how it makes the camera’s eye open wide in a way few movies manage.” It became the year’s surprise blockbuster.
Comedian, actor, playwright, screenwriter and film producer John Leguizamo has starred on Broadway in several productions and appeared in over 75 films and numerous television series. His revolutionary one-man show, Latin History for Morons, earned a Tony nomination for Best Play in 2018. He won an Emmy in 1999 for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program for “Freak,” his semi-autobiographical one-man show on Broadway, recorded for HBO. “Latin History” will soon be released as a Netflix special.
The grassroots youth movement to end senseless gun violence in America was born in Parkland, Florida, with the hashtag #NeverAgain, after the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Within days of the tragedy, Parkland students were lobbying Florida’s state legislature in Tallahassee about common sense gun control and organizing the March for Our Lives, held on March 24, 2018—which turned out to be the largest youth-led protest since Vietnam, with an estimated 800,000 protesters in the nation’s capital, and more than 1.2 million more in marches around the world. The students haven’t stopped there, traveling the country this past summer on a bus tour to 80 communities in 24 states in 60 days, where they registered young voters and held town halls, protests and candlelight vigils with local youth leaders. The founding members of March for Our Lives are the driving force of a movement and a generation tired of waiting for adults to effect the social reform they deserve.
When the Juno mission whizzed past Jupiter for the first time in 2016, NASA hit the jackpot immediately. Right away, scientists could see that the largest planet was crowded with previously unseen cyclones, all spinning in the same direction. Planetary scientists were amazed to see that the Great Red Spot had roots extending hundreds of miles deep, and that the planet’s magnetic field was unexpectedly lumpy. These and other details offered tantalizing new clues about how the planet’s ingredients came together. The success of this mission has been due in large part to an ingenious design spearheaded by its lead scientist, Scott Bolton. His approach combines unorthodox elements, from never-before-used technologies to a novel orbit shape. "The innovation comes from the combination of analytic and creative thought,” Bolton says. “You couldn’t do Juno unless you had both halves of that.”
Mily Treviño-Sauceda and Mónica Ramírez are co-founders of the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, the first national organization serving the interests of the country’s 700,000 farmworker women in their fight against workplace exploitation and sexual harassment. Treviño-Sauceda, who worked in the agriculture fields of Coachella Valley, California, alongside her family from the age of 8 until 23, is considered the founder of the farmworker women’s movement in the United States. Ramírez, the daughter and granddaughter of farmworkers, has dedicated her career to advocating for Latina and immigrant women and promoting women’s leadership. When sexual harassment and sexual assault in Hollywood made headlines in late 2017, Ramírez penned an open letter from the farmworker women to their better-known sisters in show business: “In these moments of despair, and as you cope with scrutiny and criticism because you have bravely chosen to speak out against the harrowing acts that were committed against you, please know that you’re not alone. We believe and stand with you.” The letter helped broaden the #MeToo movement to include women from all walks of life and inspired the Time’s Up movement, which includes the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.
Poet and educator Tracy K. Smith was reappointed by the Library of Congress for a second term as the 22nd U.S. Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry this year. Smith is being honored for her “American Conversations” tour, the road show she created to bring the power of poetry as a force for education to corners of the nation typically left off the literary map. Her travels on back roads will have taken her everywhere from Maine to South Dakota and Alaska. In classrooms and community centers, she distributes her new anthology, American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Times, as a kind of living textbook. And her newly launched “American Conversations” website expands outreach digitally. Smith is the Roger S. Berlind Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, where she is also director and professor of creative writing. She is the author of the memoir Ordinary Light and four books of poetry: Wade in the Water (April 2018); Life on Mars, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize; Duende, awarded the 2006 James Laughlin Award, and The Body’s Question, which won the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize.
Jean Bennett and Albert Maguire, a husband-and-wife research team, have long dreamed of curing blindness by fixing bad genes. In 1992, they both joined the faculty of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania—Bennett as a molecular geneticist and Maguire as a retinal surgeon. In 2000, they began treating a breed of dog with a heritable eye disease. Using a virus to insert a good copy of the sight gene into three of the blind dogs, they were able to restore enough sight for the dogs to complete a maze. Since then, they have perfected their approach on humans, and last year the FDA approved their treatment, called Luxturna. It’s the first-ever FDA-approved gene therapy for any heritable genetic disease, with implications for curing many other disorders and helping millions of people in the future.
The self-driving technology company Waymo has clocked more than ten million miles without anybody behind the wheel, and Dmitri Dolgov is responsible for all of them. The Russian-born Dolgov, Waymo’s chief technology officer and vice president of engineering, joined what was then Google’s secretive self-driving car project back in 2009. Dolgov, who has degrees from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and the University of Michigan and holds more than 90 patents, has had a hand in every milestone along the way, from Waymo’s very first test drives to the launch, in 2017, of the first public trial of autonomous cars on public roads, in Phoenix, Arizona. CEO John Krafcik, a Stanford graduate in engineering and former executive at Ford Motors and Hyundai, has transformed the company from a one-time “moonshot” research group into the self-driving industry’s most advanced operation, with hundreds of cars already driving in six U.S. states. In 2017, Waymo began removing “safety drivers” from its Phoenix fleet—another first—and a prelude to the biggest milestone of all: the launch before the end of this year of the world’s first autonomous-car taxi service.