2018 KEYNOTE SPEAKER
Pulitzer Prize Winner, Journalist, Author
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage for The Washington Post, Eli Saslow, who has been called “one of the great young journalists in America,” reveals the human stories behind the most divisive issues of our time. From racism and poverty to addiction and school shootings, Saslow’s work uncovers the manifold impacts of major national issues on individuals and families.
Saslow won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting for a yearlong series of stories about food stamps and hunger in the United States. Collected into the book American Hunger, his stories were praised as “unsettling and nuanced…forcing readers to grapple with issues of poverty and dependency.”
Saslow was also a three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing. “The Lonely Quiet,” Saslow’s intimate, devastating portrait of parents whose first-grader was murdered at Sandy Hook in 2012, explores both staggering loss and the determination to wrest something meaningful from that loss. In 2016’s “What Kind of Childhood Is That?”, he profiled three children orphaned by America’s opioid epidemic. And in his feature “The White Flight of Derek Black,” Saslow told millions of Americans a story we need to hear: how the one-time heir to America’s white nationalist movement came to question the ideology he helped spread.
Derek Black might be termed white nationalist royalty. His father, Don Black, launched Stormfront, the first major white supremacist website; his mother was once married to former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, who was Derek’s godfather and mentor from birth. Derek was an elected politician at 19, with his own daily radio show on which he urged white nationalists to “infiltrate” the American political system to prevent what he termed “white genocide.” But when Derek chose to attend a tiny liberal arts college, his ideological foundations began to crack. Saslow’s book Rising Out of Hatred, forthcoming in September 2018, charts the rise of white nationalism through the experiences of one person who abandoned everything he was taught to believe.
By 2016, white nationalism had become a glaring presence in the political mainstream, and Derek was ready to confront the damage he had done. Built on extensive, wide-ranging interviews with Derek, his father Don Black, and many other people, Rising Out of Hatred traces Derek’s painful but ultimately profound evolution, and explores the enormous ramifications of his decision to publicly denounce white nationalism in an open letter to the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2013.
A testament to the power of education to broaden minds and spark conversations, Rising Out of Hatred immerses us in Derek’s world—as challenging, even uncomfortable, as we might find that—and creates, in the words of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, “a relationship between reader and story.” At once political and intensely personal, Rising explains how our nation arrived at this polarizing moment, and suggests that outspoken communication and active listening have the power to change lives. Yale law professor Amy Chua called Rising Out of Hatred “a must-read for anyone interested in understanding and overcoming hate.”
Saslow’s first book is also concerned with untold American stories and the complex ways we understand our leaders. Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President, grew out of Saslow’s fascination with President Obama’s daily habit of reading ten letters he had received from Americans. By turns angry, optimistic, and moving, these letters—addressed from “Dear Mr. President” to “Dear Jackass” —serve as Saslow’s lens through which to understand who we are as Americans. David Maraniss, who has written biographies of both Obama and Bill Clinton, calls Ten Letters “a luminous book.”
Saslow is a longtime staff writer for The Washington Post, where he was initially a sportswriter. He covered the 2008 presidential campaign as well as President Obama’s life in the White House. Four of his stories have been anthologized in Best American Sportswriting, and he is an occasional contributor to ESPN The Magazine.
In 2011, Saslow cofounded Press Pass Mentors, a writing-focused nonprofit for underrepresented high school students in the Washington, DC area. The program pairs each student with a professional journalist in a one-on-one mentorship, offering students behind-the-scenes trips to places normally only accessible with a press pass, from the White House and the Kennedy Center to an NBA locker room. Mentors guide students through a curriculum that includes preparing for the SAT, applying to college, and writing scholarship essays.
Saslow speaks on the role of journalism in highlighting social and public health issues, the craft of longform journalism, the human impacts of public policy, and the importance of civility and radical inclusion. He was the T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor of Journalism at the University of Montana, and he has spoken at Princeton, Syracuse University, UNC Wilmington, UVA, Northwestern, USC, and elsewhere.
A graduate of Syracuse University, Saslow is the winner of a George Polk Award, a PEN Literary Award, a James Beard Award, and other honors. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and children.