Award-winning journalist and bestselling author Alex Kotlowitz has been exploring issues of race, poverty, and immigration in America for more than three decades. His 1991 book, There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America, garnered national recognition for its compassionate, unflinching portrait of Pharoah and Lafeyette Rivers and their lives growing up in a public housing project. In unforgettable storytelling, Kotlowitz deploys what Tracy Kidder terms “a powerful argument against the politics of inertia, hopelessness, and greed, and for a real war on poverty, violence, and racism in our country.”
A national bestseller, There Are No Children Here was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the 150 most important books of the 20th century. It has received many awards, including the Helen B. Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism, the Carl Sandburg Award, and a Christopher Award. In 1993, it was made into a television movie starring Oprah Winfrey. Twenty years later, this remarkable book continues to sell upwards of 15,000 copies each year, and is taught at high schools, colleges, and universities across the nation.
Kotlowitz’s Emmy Award-winning documentary The Interrupters—a collaboration with Hoop Dreams director Steve James—examines the stubborn persistence of urban violence. It was praised by A.O. Scott for its ability to “open up” the topic of urban violence and not limit the story to “the comforting clarity of easy conclusions.” The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and appeared as a two-hour special on Frontline. The Interrupters was cited as one of the best films of the year by The New Yorker, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, and Entertainment Weekly, and received the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary. Time called it “an enthralling experience…heroically life-affirming.”
In his books, Kotlowitz unpacks America’s troubled legacy of racial injustice, and explores the poverty and violence that are its inevitable consequences. The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death and America’s Dilemma centers on the mysterious death of a Black teenager named Eric McGinnis in St. Joseph, Michigan, a primarily white town across the river from his home in the primarily Black town of Benton Harbor. The New York Times called The Other Side of the River “a vivid American microcosm, a telling tableau of the way we are…important, essential even, for the rest of us to contemplate.” In Never a City So Real, Kotlowitz introduces us to the people of Chicago, who have been his guide into the city’s—and this country’s—heart. The Chicago Sun-Times called Never a City So Real “a fine successor to Nelson Algren’s Chicago: City on the Make as a song to our rough-and-tumble, broken-nosed city.” Never a City So Real will be out in paperback in spring 2019.
On his NPR podcast Written Inside, produced by WBEZ Chicago, Kotlowitz tells stories adapted from essays by maximum-security prisoners at Stateville Correctional Center near Chicago. These intimate stories, each narrated by a Chicago actor, illuminate the day-to-day experience of incarceration.
Kotlowitz’s next book, American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago, out in March 2019, is a spellbinding collection of profoundly intimate profiles of people and communities affected by gun violence. Written with his trademark immersive, empathetic reporting, An American Summer has the potential to change our national conversation about violence, race, and poverty.
Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Evicted, calls An American Summer “a masterpiece of real-life storytelling from one of the nation’s most committed investigative reporters… With each unforgettable story, Kotlowitz draws us into the lives of people living and working in some of Chicago’s most abandoned communities. The stories of suffering and revenge unsettle and enrage; those of grace and forgiveness warm and inspire. Together, they dispel with cheap explanations, offering deeper sense to acts thought senseless and revealing people’s depth and humanity lost in the headlines.”
Kotlowitz’s work has regularly appeared in The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine and on This American Life (notably, the Peabody Award-winning “Harper High School” double episode). His articles have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, and Granta.
Kotlowitz teaches journalism at Northwestern University. He has also taught at the University of Notre Dame, the University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College, where he was a Montgomery Fellow. His work is widely read in programs focusing on social work, education, psychology, urban affairs, race, housing issues, and journalism. He has lectured at hundreds of organizations and universities, including Harvard, Princeton, and the Aspen Ideas Festival, and has keynoted for numerous conferences, including those of the Neighborhood Housing Services, the Federal Reserve, and the National Association of Social Workers. A graduate of Wesleyan University, Kotlowitz grew up in New York City and now lives just outside Chicago.
For more information on Alex Kotlowitz, please visit alexkotlowitz.com.