The Art of Freedom

Teaching the Humanities to the Poor

Earl Shorris (Author)

Overview | Inside the Book

A conversation in a prison cell sparks an ambitious undertaking to attack the roots of long-term poverty.

Seeking answers to the toughest questions about poverty in the United States, Earl Shorris had looked everywhere. At last, one resounding answer came from a conversation with a woman in a maximum-security prison: the difference between rich and poor is the humanities. Shorris took that idea and started a course at the Clemente Family Guidance Center in New York. With a faculty of friends, he began teaching the great works of literature and philosophy—from Plato to Kant, from Cervantes to Garcia Marquez—at the college level to dropouts, immigrants, and ex-prisoners. From that first class came two dentists, a nurse, two PhDs, a fashion designer, a drug counselor, and other successes.

Over the course of seventeen years the course expanded to many U.S. cities and foreign countries. Now Earl Shorris has written the stories of those who teach and those who study the humanities—a tribute to the courage of people rising from unspeakable poverty to engage in dialogue with professors from great universities around the world.

This year, in a high school on the South Side of Chicago, a Clemente Course has begun that may change the character of public education in America and perhaps the world.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • February 2013
  • ISBN 978-0-393-08127-5
  • 6.5 × 9.6 in / 320 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“Earl Shorris was one of a kind and his story should inspire us all.” — Victor Navasky, publisher emeritus, The Nation

“Earl Shorris was the most authentic and radical of educators: he thought the poor were human, entitled to know as much as anyone else. Told with verve and humor, this memoir might inspire a revolution.” — John R. MacArthur, president and publisher, Harper’s

“To read The Art of Freedom is to learn what should be the first and fundamental purpose of an American education. More instructive than any academic analysis or government policy paper, Earl Shorris’s book furnishes both the how and the why to empower the nation’s public schools.” — Lewis Lapham, editor, Lapham’s Quarterly

“Shorris demonstrated, in 17 short years, that well-designed and well-taught courses can ‘pierce the structure of the surround of force’ that holds poor people down. Many changes must be made before the culture of the streets becomes a culture of learning. But Earl Shorris has earned the right to rest in peace.” — Glenn C. Altschuler, San Francisco Chronicle

Also by Earl Shorris All

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  2. Book CoverIn the Yucatan: A Novel


  3. Book CoverLatinos: A Biography of the People


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