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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 4, 2009

'Gang Leader for a Day' author to speak at UI

Award-winning author Sudhir Venkatesh will speak about his research of street gangs and underground economies done for his book, "Gang Leader for a Day" on Tuesday, Sept. 15 at the University of Iowa.

His talk, sponsored by the University Lecture Committee, begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Main Lounge of the Iowa Memorial Union.

Venkatesh is the William B. Ransford Professor of Sociology at Columbia University. Much of his work focuses on gangs, crime, housing, underground economies, philanthropy and government policy.

The expert on American cities published a memoir in 2008, "Gang Leader for a Day," based on his life studying gangs and poor communities in Chicago. His first book, "Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor", was published in 2007 and was awarded a Best Book prize by

During Venkatesh's lecture, he will primarily talk about his research of street gangs and underground economies in relation to his book, "Gang Leader for a Day." Venkatesh lived in some of Chicago's housing projects to study how crack-dealing street gangs work as economic agents.

"What you don't see is a very strong law-abiding element where people care and people work with the youth," Venkatesh said. "The challenges are greater but you see people struggling like any other community."

He will also discuss his techniques on how he researched the project. "I'll talk about my experiences trying to get on the inside," Venkatesh said.

He has contributed to many magazines, newspapers, and books including The American Prospect, Chicago Tribune, "This American Life", The Source, and the internationally best-selling book, "Freakanomics." Venkatesh wrote a section for the book on his research of the economics of crack cocaine and how street gangs run their trade like a corporation.

Venkatesh, a professor of sociology and African-American studies at Columbia University, has also made several documentaries including "Dislocation", which aired on PBS is 2005. He is currently working with "Freakanomics" author Steven Levitt, on a study of illegal economies.

Sari Patnaik, a member of the UI Lecture Committee, said the group is excited for Venkatesh to speak on campus.

"He spends his life listening to people," she said. "I think he will be an excellent storyteller."

Venkatesh has also done extensive work with the youth population and their economic situation, something Patnaik said she hopes the audience can relate to.

The University Book Store will sell two of Venkatesh's books at the event. A book signing will follow the lecture.

For more information visit, or see for more background on Ventatesh and his work.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242

MEDIA CONTACTS: University Lecture Committee, 319-335-3407,; George McCrory, University News Services, 319-384-0012, Writer: Ashton Shurson