Intellectual Maverick Takes Helm of Center for European and Russian Studies

Published: November 17, 2015
Photo: Catherine Helie/ Gallimard/ Leemage, 2011

 Laure Murat didn’t start out with ambitions to become a university professor.

“I hated school,” recalls the Paris native, “I was a very bad student in high school — I just did my baccalauréat” — the rough equivalent of completing a year of college in the U.S. — “and that was it.”

That’s not to say Murat wasn’t intellectually inclined; she was just fiercely independent with wide-ranging interests. So she became a journalist and an art critic, working for Beaux Arts magazine and the “France Culture” public radio program.

Eventually, she began writing and editing books — first, more popular books on cultural topics and later, serious cultural histories based on in-depth archival research. Along the way, her books have won some of most coveted literary prizes in France, including the Prix Goncourt for biography, the Prix de la Critique of the Académie Française, the Prix Femina and the Prix du Printemps du Livre de Cassis. Murat has also earned several prestigious fellowships, including a Guggenheim and a research grant from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In her latest move, this intellectual maverick has taken the helm as director at the recently renamed Center for European and Russian Studies, where she, with great sadness, is thinking through ways to organize a program in response to the horrific attacks on her hometown.

“I heard about the Paris attacks as I was exiting a meeting with Jerry Kang, the vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion,” said Murat, who, with many friends and family in Paris, instantly became riveted to her cellphone as she scanned for any details. “I was counting the dead and the hostages, with a feeling of horror and unspeakable grief. While walking to Bunche Hall, I couldn’t help thinking about politics: the one of my homeland — the so-called ‘laïcité,’ that is to say, secularism and universalism, and the one of my adopted country, multiculturalism and inclusion.

“I thought, ‘Is one way better than the other in countries where there are countless problems of racism?’ American awareness of the problem and the constant efforts to address it sound to me to be the only way to go,” Murat reflected.

In the meantime, heartfelt messages of condolence and offers of help have been sent to her from her colleagues at UCLA, and that has brought her some comfort. “That’s why I love working here so much: Living together and working together mean something,” she said.

Continue reading the full article at UCLA Newsroom