Alex Kotlowitz is an Illinois-based nonfiction writer and journalist.
There Are No Children Here: The Story Of Two Boys Growing Up In The Other America; The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns; Never a City So Real
Helen B. Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism, the Carl Sandburg Award, and a Christopher Award (There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America). New York Public Library selected There Are No Children Here as one of the 150 most important books of the century.
Which one or two American books or plays would you yourself recommend to the foreign leaders?
Tony Lukas's Common Ground. It speaks to the most profound divisions in this country, having everything to do with class, race and culture. Also John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, which speaks to the best and worst of this country.
Who in your childhood—for example, parent or teacher—encouraged you to read books, and which one or two books do you remember most fondly?
Our living room walls were covered with books, hundreds of them, from floor to ceiling. It was a given that if my brother or I wanted to understand ourselves or the world, it was all along those walls.
Old Yeller is the first book to make me cry (which as a young boy I tried to keep from everyone else). Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, in an odd sort of way, made my adolescence feel less dark. It gave me perspective.
Which books by writers of the other G8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom) have been most important to you as a writer?
Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. Günter Grass's The Tin Drum. Just about anything by George Orwell, especially his nonfiction.