Imagine: Your phone rings. You answer. Someone on the other end of the line says: “Congratulations. We think you’re a genius. And by the way, you’ve won $500,000! No strings attached!”

Feels pretty good, right?

That’s exactly what 25 Americans heard earlier this week when the MacArthur Foundation called to inform them they’d been selected as the 2008 Fellows for the so-called “Genius Grants” program.

This year’s Fellows are a diverse and compelling group of people engaged in wildly different but equally exciting community building projects.

There’s Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian-born fiction writer.

Will Allen, a farmer who cultivates vegetables in… inner-city Detroit.

Mary Jackson, an artist from my home state of South Carolina who’s preserving Gullah traditions by weaving sweetgrass baskets and advocating for the protection of threatened wetlands habitats in the lowcountry.

Walter Kitundu, an instrument maker and composer who blends Asian and African traditions with modern musical forms, including hip-hop.

Miguel Zenon, a Puerto Rican saxophonist who is resuscitating Afro-Latin jazz, and who obviously is passionate about music… check out this video:

And 20 others whose stories are important and interesting.

Think you’re a genius? Plenty of folks in the Matador community are fascinating people doing amazing work as they travel the world.

If you’re one of them, you’ll have to wait until one of the anonymous nominators discovers you… MacArthur geniuses are nominated and selected by a panel of people from diverse fields who serve the Foundation secretly. If you want to learn more, visit the Foundation’s website.

Get your hands on some genius!

Read Chimamanda Adichie’s book:

Half of a Yellow Sun

or listen to Miguel Zenon’s CD:

Jíbaro