A Prodigy’s West Side Story

A Prodigy’s West Side Story

Holder of two doctoral degrees. Associate professor. Winner of a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. Author of two scholarly works that span the gap from ancient Athens to Ralph Ellison. And all before the age of 30.
By any measure, the University of Chicago’s Dr. Danielle Allen is a rising star. Joining the faculty in 1997, Allen is a young scholar whose intellectual scope spans the fields of classics, philosophy, political theory and literature. The MacArthur Foundation describes Allen as someone who “combines the classicist’s careful attention to texts and language with the political theorist’s sophisticated and informed engagement.”
Her recent book, The World of Prometheus, examines the theory and practice of punishment in classical Athens, demonstrating the centrality of the concept for both elite and ordinary citizens. Her forthcoming work, Democratic Engagements: Rhetoric, Distrust, and Sacrifice, compares the views and writings of Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes and Ralph Ellison. She is currently working on a commentary and political analysis of Aristotle’s Rhetoric and — perhaps most surprisingly — coordinating “Poem Present,” a series on contemporary poetry.
Allen has said that her greatest challenge as a teacher came from students on Chicago’s West Side, where she taught in the Illinois Humanities Council’s Odyssey Project, a one-year course in the humanities for people between the ages of 18 and 35 living at or below the poverty level.
“They gave me back a certain directness I had lost,” she says. “They would tell me if they thought something was just hogwash, or if they were completely dissatisfied by an answer — or a question.”   
— By Kendra Hamilton



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