Alex Kotlowitz

Alex Kotlowitz

Spring 2002
Course: Telling Stories: The Art of Narrative Non-Fiction

Author Kotlowitz describes his blend of narrative and reality, or ‘the literature of fact’

Alex Kotlowitz is perhaps best known for the bestselling There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America. The book, which was published in 1991 and has since sold over half-a-million copies, was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Helen B. Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism, the Carl Sandburg Award and a Christopher Award. The New York Public Library selected There Are No Children Here as one of the 150 most important books of the century. In the fall of 1993, it was adapted for television as an ABC Movie-of-the-Week starring Oprah Winfrey. About Kotlowitz’s second book, The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death and America’s Dilemma, The New York Times wrote: “Of all the many books written about race in America in the past couple of years, none has been quite like The Other Side of the River…It is the difference between the two towns, one white, one black, that anchors this story, give it its soul, and makes it important, essential even, for the rest of us to contemplate.” The book received The Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize for Non-Fiction and the Great Lakes Booksellers Award for Non-Fiction. Kotlowitz’s most recent book, Never a City So Real (Crown), is a bit of a departure, a collection of contemporary stories from Chicago, his adopted hometown. Kotlowitz views Chicago as a kind of refuge for outsiders; it’s the people on the outside who are trying to clean up – or at least make sense of – the mess on the inside. Perspective doesn’t come easy if you’re standing in the center.

Between books, Kotlowitz has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker and public radio’s This American Life. Over the past three years, he has produced three collections of personal narratives for Chicago Public Radio: Stories of Home, Love Stories and Stories of Money. Stories of Home was awarded a Peabody Award. He has served as a correspondent and writer for a Frontline documentary, Let’s Get Married, as well as correspondent and writer for two pieces for PBS’s Media Matters. His articles have also appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic and The New Republic. He is a writer-in-residence at Northwestern University where he teaches two courses every winter, and a visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame as the Welch Chair in American Studies where he teaches one course every fall. Kotlowitz, who regularly gives public lectures, grew up in New York City. His father, Robert, is the author of four novels and a memoir of World War II, Before Their Time. His mother, Billie, who died in 1994, ran the Thematic Studies Program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. His brother, Dan, is a professor of Theatrical Lighting Design at Dartmouth. Kotlowitz graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Ct..

His first journalism job – after a yearlong stint on an Oregon cattle ranch – was with a small alternative newsweekly in Lansing, Michigan. After a year there, he freelanced for five years, producing for The MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour and reporting for NPR’s All Things Considered and Morning Edition. From 1984 to 1993, he was a staff writer at The Wall Street Journal, writing on urban affairs and social policy. His journalism honors include the George Foster Peabody Award, the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and the George Polk Award. He is the recipient of three honorary degrees and the John LaFarge Memorial Award for Interracial Justice given by New York’s Catholic Interracial Council. He currently lives with his family just outside Chicago.