A civil rights activist, poet, historian, labor organizer and physicist are all among the 2014 class of MacArthur Fellows, the prestigious award that grants a $625,000 stipend paid out over five years to creative thinkers.  Fellows can spend the grant however they want with the idea that the money will be used to realize their creative visions and improve the future.

“Those who think creativity is dying should examine the life’s work of these extraordinary innovators who work in diverse fields and in different ways to improve our lives and better our world,” Cecilia Conrad, vice president of the MacArthur Fellows Program, said in a statement. “Together, they expand our view of what is possible, and they inspire us to apply our own talents and imagination.”

This year’s fellows are: housing activist John Henneberger, civil rights activist Mary L. Bonauto, legal scholar Sarah Deer, criminal lawyer Jonathan Rapping, mathematician Jacob Lurie, documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, memoirist Alison Bechdel, labor organizer Ai-jen Poo, artist Rick Lowe, playwright Samuel D. Hunter, jazz composer Steve Coleman, poet Terrance Hayes,  mathematician Yitang Zhang, physicist Danielle Bassett, social psychologist Jennifer L. Eberhardt, environmental engineer Tami Bond, scientist Mark Hersam, scientist Craig Gentry,  poet Khaled Mattawa, historian Pamela O. Long and historian Tara Zahra.

“It was disbelief at first," Rapping, a legal defense advocate in Baltimore, told the Washington Post. "You almost wonder, ‘Is this one of those pranks on the radio? Is this my wife playing a trick on me?’ ”

There have been 897 MacArthur Fellows since the program began in 1981.