Leslie Kurke
Departments of Classics and Comparative Literature


Leslie Kurke

Leslie Kurke
Peg Skorpinski photo

24 April 2002 |

From the moment professor Leslie Kurke stepped into her first Berkeley lecture course in 1990, she knew the students — diverse, intellectually engaged and highly motivated — were unlike any she had known.

One of the campus’s MacArthur Fellows, Kurke holds joint appointments in classics and comparative literature and is known for her fresh, interdisciplinary approach. Her specialties span archaic and classical Greek literature and cultural history, with emphasis on archaic Greek poetry.

Kurke “has the great gift of presenting new and difficult ideas to students in a fashion that allows a student to feel that he or she has discovered this startlingly brilliant idea on his or her own,” said Emma Dewald, a former student of Kurke’s.

English professor Sharon Marcus, who co-taught with Kurke a fall 2000 course on the history of sexuality, recalled “being dazzled by her erudition, her mastery of Greek texts, of anthropological approaches to antiquity, and of contemporary reading practices and theories of culture.” And Robert Knapp, chair of the Classics department, recalled watching Kurke in the seminar: “I witnessed a master teacher at work.”

“In my experience,” said Kurke, “students at every level are exhilarated by the presentation of clear and complex ideas; they respond by reading and talking more, thinking harder, and writing better than they themselves perhaps thought they could.”

With her MacArthur grant, she is currently writing a book using Aesop’s Fables to recreate what Greek popular culture might have looked like.

Having dreamed as a child of a career in medicine, Kurke said she was in college when the idea of becoming an academic took hold. "In teaching, the world never stands still," she said.


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