Three UC Berkeley experts awarded prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowships

By Janet Gilmore, Public Affairs

BERKELEY-- Two University of California, Berkeley professors and a visiting scholar are winners of a coveted MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Fellowship for their exceptionally creative work in journalism, chemistry and the classics.

Chemist Carolyn Bertozzi, journalist Mark Danner and classicist Leslie Kurke will receive cash awards of more than $200,000.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced the new fellows on Tuesday, June 22. In all, the foundation awarded fellowships to 32 individuals across the country with stipends ranging from $200,000 to $375,000.

"The 1999 class of fellows is full of creative people doing unusual and important things in a broad range of disciplines," said Adele Simmons, president of the MacArthur Foundation. "They are transforming and bridging fields, making major breakthroughs, illuminating responsibility for humanity's inhumanities, solving persistent contemporary problems, and expanding our imagination about what is possible."

This is the first time since 1982 that the annual award has been given to three individuals from UC Berkeley, and the third year in a row that a member of the campus community has received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

Carolyn Bertozzi

Bertozzi, an associate professor of chemistry who began teaching at UC Berkeley in 1996, works at the boundary between biology and chemistry, investigating the role of sugar molecules on the surfaces of cells. Over the past decade, biologists have discovered the important role these complex carbohydrates play in normal biological processes as well as in disease and illness, including viral and bacterial infections.

She also has found a trick for getting cells to utilize non-natural sugars. These sugars can be modified with useful molecules, such as probes that assist in the identification of cancerous cells. Bertozzi, 32, was awarded $255,000. She lives near Berkeley, in Albany, California. Bertozzi received an undergraduate degree from Harvard University and her doctorate in chemistry from UC Berkeley.

Leslie Kurke

Kurke, a professor with joint appointments in Classics and Comparative Literature, began

teaching at UC Berkeley in 1990.

Kurke brings her own fresh, interdisciplinary approach to the study of classic Greek antiquity and archaic Greek poetry. In her first book, "The Traffic in Praise," (1991), she interprets the works of Greek poet Pindar within the socio-economic context of ancient Greece, offering a new perspective on the poet's work.

Kurke, 39, was awarded $290,000. She lives in Berkeley. She received her bachelor's degree from Bryn Mawr College and her doctorate from Princeton University.

Mark Danner

Danner is a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Journalism and a senior research fellow at UC Berkeley's Human Rights Center. He began teaching at UC Berkeley during the 1998-1999 school year.

Danner is revered for the probing, insightful approach he brings to foreign affairs reporting. A book author and staff writer for "The New Yorker" magazine, Danner has written on Haiti, El Salvador, Bosnia and NATO. His work focuses on circumstances in which issues of human rights and American power are at stake.

Danner, 40, was awarded $295,000. He lives in New York and Berkeley. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University.

As is typical of all new winners of the MacArthur awards, the three UC Berkeley fellows had no idea they were being considered for the prize until they received a congratulatory phone call last week.

"I'm still in shock; it's unreal," said Bertozzi. "It's incredibly humbling. I am just asking myself, 'What am I doing in this group?'"

For those familiar with her work, there is no question as to why she was selected.

"We are all delighted by the recognition that Bertozzi receives with the MacArthur award, but I'm sure few are surprised," said Paul A. Bartlett, chair of UC Berkeley's Chemistry Department. "Certainly none of the students she teaches would be surprised - Bertozzi's effect on a classroom is like that of a revival preacher on a crowd of the faithful!

"She brings the same energy and creativity to her research, which encompasses the chemical biology of carbohydrate-protein conjugates. Glycoproteins, as they are called, are an extraordinarily complex class of biomolecules and, hence, have been one of the most difficult to study. They also play important roles in human disease, so the novel approaches Bertozzi is pioneering can have a significant impact on medicine.

"We are proud to have Bertozzi as a colleague, and very excited for her as the significance of this award sinks in!"

Colleagues who work with Leslie Kurke also are celebrating the professor's achievement.

"Everyone who reads her work finds it extremely thought-provoking, new," said Donald Mastronarde, chair of the Classics Department. "In addition to being a scholar of tremendous distinction, she is a great teacher. She is an inspired teacher.

"The most remarkable thing about Leslie Kurke's work is that she has developed so much force and persuasiveness in archaic Greek culture based on the new historicism and anthropological theory. She really makes the ideas her own. She does not just follow other people's ideas."

Kurke looks at ancient work from a political, social and economic perspective. She considers not only the views of the elite, but individuals of various socio-economic levels and opinions.

News of the fellowship took Kurke by surprise.

"I was just completely amazed," said Kurke. "It was out of the blue. I'm still just really in shock. Obviously, it's a great affirmation of the kind of work I'm trying to do. But I also think it's a very important recognition of the value of work in the humanities."

Mark Danner, another MacArthur Foundation fellowship winner, views the award as acknowledgment of his past work and encouragement to continue such work.

Asked what he would do with the award money, Danner quipped, "Worry less," then continued, "I think the spirit of the award is to let one go on doing, more easily, what one had been doing: in my case, to travel to places where politics have descended into violence, to try to understand those places and to write about them so that others can as well."

Danner both teaches at UC Berkeley and writes, mainly for "The New Yorker" and "The New York Review of Books."

Among his most widely praised work is the 1994 book about El Salvador, "The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War." The book, first published as an article in "The New Yorker," is considered the definitive work about the role of the United States in Latin American during the Carter-Reagan era.

Orville Schell, dean of UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, considers Danner the perfect recipient of the MacArthur fellowship.

"I think he is the perfect person to get this award because he is one of the very few, very impressive independent intellectuals in America today," Schell said. "Mark is an absolutely brilliant teacher, an even more brilliant writer and, perhaps even more importantly, an intellectual of sort of the highest caliber - but one who occupies that very interesting territory where academia overlaps with just plain, good writing in journalism.

"Like the 12-part series (on the war in the former Yugoslavia) he did in 'The New York Review of Books.' It's beautifully written, it's historically informative, it's reflective and it allows the reader to come away feeling that they haven't just been in a hit-and-run accident. He has a sharp eye, but also prodigious research abilities, and it's a very good and rare combination."

The series of articles began November 20, 1997, and continues with the issue now on newsstands.

Schell also praised Danner's teaching skills, especially his ability to help students improve their writing and provide a more thoughtful, cosmopolitan aspect to their work.


Danner first came to UC Berkeley during the 1998-1999 school year, teaching a course on wars, revolutions and coups. He will return this fall and teach a course on crisis issues from the perspective of journalists and diplomats. Danner will teach the course with Peter Tarnoff, a former top official with the U.S. State Department.

"I was very pleased, delighted and flattered that the MacArthur Foundation would name me a fellow," said Danner. "I'm very grateful to them."

The MacArthur Foundation, with assets of more than $4 billion, is a private, independent grant-making institution that helps groups and individuals foster lasting improvement in the human condition. The foundation imposes no requirements or restrictions on how the fellows use their award money and does not require or expect them to produce specific products or reports.

Individuals cannot apply for MacArthur fellowships. They are selected by anonymous talent scouts and an anonymous selection committee, experts with an ability to identify individuals with exceptional creativity.

The MacArthur Foundation first began distributing these awards in 1981. Including the fellows announced this week, the foundation has awarded 563 fellowships nationwide. Among those, UC Berkeley has had 26 fellowship recipients.

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