Stories & Essays

Where is Everyone Going?

The Chicago Tribune Magazine

There has been a remarkable turn of events in the city that Nelson Algren once described as so audacious that it dared to “roll boulevards down out of pig-wallows and roll its dark river uphill.” If promises are kept and plans met, within 10 years all 82 public housing high-rises for families will be gone, having fallen to the wrecking ball. Erase the slate and start anew. Already, 29 high- rises have been razed, and plans are in place to build new homes, some allotted for those displaced, others selling—at least in one gentrifying community–for upwards of $400,000.

All Boarded Up

The New York Times Magazine

Tony Brancatelli, a Cleveland City Councilman, yearns for signs that something like normal life still exists in his ward. Early one morning last fall, he called me from his cellphone. He sounded unusually excited. He had just visited two forlorn-looking vacant houses that had been foreclosed more than a year ago. They sat on the same lot, one in front of the other. Both had been frequented by squatters, and Brancatelli had passed by to see if they had been finally boarded up. They hadn’t.

Through the Clouds

The Washington Post Magazine

Madeleine, my 4 1/2-year-old daughter, pressed her face against the seaplane’s window, peering at the temperamental waters of Lake Superior below. Though the morning sky was a satiny, pale blue, the sea boiled, whitecaps exploding like firecrackers. As we approached our destination, Isle Royale, a reef of clouds hugged the island tightly, hiding it from view. Mattie was mesmerized. The rest of us were unnerved. I sat with my back to the pilot, facing the rear of the plane.

I See Everything Through This Tragedy


How we ignore the long-term effects of violence on children, adults and our communities

At 10:45 on the night of March 13, 2009, Rodney Orange waited for his 14-year-old grandson, Gregory Robinson, to arrive home. Gregory had been at a high school basketball game, and as the car he rode in pulled up outside the house, Mr. Orange heard the sound of semi-automatic weapons. He remembers two distinct sounds of gunfire, suggesting there were two shooters. More than 50 shots were fired. He rushed to the car. Gregory had been sitting in the backseat and had thrown his body on top of his two younger cousins, one five years old, the other nine months. He saved their lives. Gregory was shot in the back.

The Best Street Photographer You've Never Heard Of

Mother Jones

It’s Impossible to take measure of Vivian Maier’s photos without taking stock of her story. She was by all accounts remarkably private, someone who didn’t always enjoy the company of other adults. And yet her photographs feel like a celebration of people—a celebration of what Studs Terkel, the late grand oral historian, liked to call “the etceteras” of the world.

Our Town

The New York Times Magazine

When I first met with Judy Sigwalt and her fellow village trustee Paul Humpfer this past April, they were, understandably, feeling assured, if not emboldened. A few weeks earlier, with the endorsement of the two local newspapers, they were elected to their village board on the platform that their town, Carpentersville, Ill., should do everything in its power to discourage illegal immigrants from settling there. They vowed to pass a local ordinance that would penalize landlords that rented to illegal aliens and businesses that hired them.



Chicago is one of America’s most iconic, historic, and fascinating cities. For Alex Kotlowitz, an accidental Chicagoan, it is the perfect perch from which to peer into America’s heart.

Separated by a river, St. Joseph and Benton Harbor are two Michigan towns that are geographically close, yet worlds apart. St. Joseph is a prosperous, predominately white lakeshore community while Benton Harbor is impoverished and predominately black. When the body of Eric McGinnis, a black teenage boy from Benton Harbor, is found in the river that separates the towns, relations between the two communities grow increasingly strained as longheld misperceptions and attitudes surface. 

There Are No Children Here chronicles two years in the lives of two boys, Lafeyette and Pharoah, struggling to survive in Chicago’s Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex disfigured by crime and neglect. 

© 2018, Alex Kotlowitz. All rights reserved