For forty years, Alex Kotlowitz has been telling stories from the heart of America, deeply intimate tales of struggle and perseverance. He is the author of four books, including his most recent, An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago. His other books include the national bestseller There Are No Children Here, which the New York Public Library selected as one of the 150 most important books of the twentieth century. It received the Helen B. Bernstein Award and was adapted as a television movie produced by and starring Oprah Winfrey. It was selected by The New York Times as a Notable Book of the Year along with his second book, The Other Side of the River which also received The Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize for Nonfiction. His book on Chicago, Never a City So Real, will soon be released in paperback.
While Alex’s home is print, he has also worked in film and radio. His documentary, The Interrupters, a collaboration with Steve James, premiered at Sundance in January 2011 and aired as a two-hour special on PBS’s FRONTLINE. It was cited as one of the best films of the year by The New Yorker, The Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly and The LA Times. For the film, Alex received an Emmy, a Cinema Eye Award and an Independent Spirit Award.
A former staff writer at The Wall Street Journal, Alex’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and on This American Life. His stories, which one reviewer wrote “inform the heart”, have also appeared in Granta, Rolling Stone, The Chicago Tribune, Slate and The Washington Post, as well as on PBS (Frontline, the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour and Media Matters) and on NPR’s All Things Considered and Morning Edition. His play, An Unobstructed View, written with Amy Drozdowska, premiered in Chicago in June 2005.
In 2016, Alex worked with inmates at Illinois’ Stateville prison on essays about their cells. The stories which ran on The New Yorker’s website and on The New Yorker’s Radio Hour became the basis for the podcast Written Inside. NPR’s Lauren Ober, who picked it as one of the top ten podcasts of the year, wrote: “It’s an intimate look at life behind bars that will likely change the way you think about incarceration.”
Alex has been honored in all three mediums, including two Peabodys, two Columbia duPonts, the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and the George Polk Award. He’s also the recipient of eight honorary degrees, the John LaFarge Memorial Award for Interracial Justice given by New York’s Catholic Interracial Council and the 2019 Harold Washington Literary Award.
Alex regularly gives lectures and talks around the country. He’s been a writer-in-residence at the University of Chicago, a visiting professor for seven years at the University of Notre Dame, a Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College and a Distinguished Visitor at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He’s on faculty at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism where he’s been teaching since 1999.
Alex grew up in New York City and attended Wesleyan University. After a year-long stint on a cattle ranch, he took his first journalism job at a small alternative weekly in Lansing, Michigan.
He lives just outside Chicago with his wife, Maria Woltjen, who directs the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. They have two children, Mattie and Lucas.