The 14 men and nine women named this year include the novelist Junot Diaz (author of “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” the 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction); marine ecologist Nancy Rabalais of Louisiana; Boston pediatric neurosurgeon Benjamin Warf; mathematician Maria Chudnovsky of Columbia University; neurobiologist Elissa Hallem of UCLA; and Benoit Rolland, a stringed-instrument bow maker in Boston.
The 2012 class also includes another Washington writer, Dinaw Mengestu, a Georgetown University graduate who is now a professor there. Mengestu, 34, is the author of two novels that explore the lives and memories of African immigrants. He has also reported on Africa for magazines such as Harper’s and Rolling Stone.
Finkel, a veteran Post reporter who is now the newspaper’s national enterprise editor, is the author of “The Good Soldiers,” an acclaimed 2009 book that followed a U.S. Army infantry battalion that went into Iraq as part of the American troop “surge” in 2007. He spent eight months embedded with the unit to produce the book along with articles for The Post.
“I’m happy, I’m flattered and I’m pretty surprised,” Finkel said. “It’s not something you ever expect.”
In fact, when the MacArthur selection committee called him early one morning to give him the news, Finkel said he thought it was a storm-window installer calling to say he’d be late for an appointment. He was so disbelieving that he declined to return a follow-up call to the committee. “I thought the whole thing was a hoax,” he said.
Finkel already is among the most decorated journalists in the nation. He won a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism in 2006 for a three-part series in The Post that followed a U.S.-funded program to promote democracy in Yemen. He had been a Pulitzer finalist on three previous occasions for explanatory and feature writing.
His work is typically the product of months of grueling reporting from remote and harsh locales — Kosovo, Iraq, Yemen, Central and South America and parts of the United States.
“He has lived and breathed ‘for’ the story of the Iraq war for five years,” said Post reporter Anne Hull, a fellow Pulitzer Prize winner and multiple Pulitzer finalist. “That’s a long time to stay inside such a painful story. Year after year, he has buried himself in the reporting and writing, with a fury that goes beyond dedication. As a friend, you can tell the story is always with him and the toll it has taken on him.”