How I Got Here

My interest in Africa was a bit of a fluke. I wasn’t one of those precocious kids toying with atlases or globes at a tender age. When Joseph Conrad was a little boy, the story goes, he pointed to a map of Africa and declared: "When I grow up, I’m going there." When I was a little boy, I pointed my finger into my nose and declared I was going to be a fireman.

I grew up in a Chicago suburb, progressing at an average speed from Star Wars figures to Estes rockets to Roman candles to struggling with how to unclasp a bra in the dark. My mom was a social worker, my dad a lawyer, my sister a good student who drove a red Grand Am – we were hardly the most worldly bunch. From birth to college, I lived in the same house, in the same room, and I could lie in bed and see all the stages of my life — the Walter Payton posters, the set of pocket knives, the drawers crammed with wrinkled notes, old letters and doomed valentines. I was vaguely aware of the tumultuous throb of the world without considering I had any real place in it.

But as Love, Africa explains, my life took a major left turn after my freshman year at Cornell. I went to Africa for the first time and came back a changed man. I worked summers "throwing paint" on houses (the Da Vinci Brothers’ era, which I get into in Chapter Three) and raised a little dough to go back to Africa.

First I thought I wanted to be a portrait photographer. Then I thought I wanted to be an aid worker. I had the Where (East Africa) but no idea about the What. It was only after a crushingly lonely summer in Ethiopia that I seized on journalism.

I’ve had the privilege of working at some excellent publications, from the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) to the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. I’ve covered everything from small town carnage to a New Year’s Eve possum drop in Brasstown, North Carolina, to wars, elephant slaughters and famines. My stories have appeared in GQ, the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, Lapham’s Quarterly and National Geographic. I’ve been lucky in many ways, including winning several awards: the George Polk award, two Overseas Press Club awards and the Pulitzer Prize.

I live in Nairobi with my family in a house with mango trees that are often raided by the same fat monkey. For more than a decade, I’ve been the East Africa bureau chief for The New York Times. But there may be some big changes on the horizon soon. Please reach out to me if you’ve read Love, Africa or have any questions.



2012 Pulitzer Prize Winner in International Reporting

For his vivid reports, often at personal peril, on famine and conflict in East Africa, a neglected but increasingly strategic part of the world.  More