Best of Slow Journalism: Promethea Unbound
This story of genius threatened by poverty and violence in Montana, published by the Atavist Magazine, is one of our favourite recent reads
Jasmine Lysistrata was five years old in 1997 when her mother took her to visit the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. After just a few hours with the faculty’s physics professors, and despite never having been to school, Jasmine was recognised as a genius.
By the age of 13, she had earned her first undergraduate degree and was working towards a second. To celebrate her graduation she changed her name to Promethea, a reference to the Greek titan who brought fire to mankind. Her mother stopped working to devote her life to fostering her daughter’s genius. The pair faced poverty and social isolation in rural Montana yet Promethea was able to continue to excel in her disparate endeavors, until a chilling act of violence in 2011 knocked mother and daughter so far off course that they were unlikely to ever recover.
Journalist Mike Mariani has revisited Promethea’s story in a longform investigation, Promethea Unbound. He weaves together a story that was only ever reported piecemeal in local US news, digging into family history, the pressures of genius and a murderous obsession. It’s a human story that reads like a thriller, yet Mariani is sensitive to the social currents that shape the narrative and its context. This story of one girl is also a story of education, poverty and immigration in modern America. It’s the story of how a child with blinding intellectual potential can just slip through the cracks.
This style of journalism, which sees compelling personal stories spiral into wider social analysis, has become the calling card of the Atavist Magazine, a digital-only platform that has been publishing longform articles since 2011. Other recent pieces include an investigation into the psyche of a murderer and a search for the identity of a teenager who died nameless and alone in Kentucky in 1921. Each article is accompanied by research documents, videos and a version read aloud on Soundcloud, but it’s the depth and nuance to each piece which makes the publication shine. They may only publish one article per month, but they make it count.
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