Associate Professor of Writing
A professional journalist for more than two decades, I first started out as a stringer in Moscow during the last years of the USSR. Thanks to the great fortune of winning an Alicia Patterson fellowship in 1996, I spent a year reporting from the war zones of the former Soviet lands and Afghanistan. I spent the next six years based in Moscow, covering Russia and the ex-USSR as a staff correspondent for TIME.
Since returning to the U.S., I've written two books of nonfiction. BLACK EARTH is a history of Russia’s first post-Soviet decade, as told by way of a travelogue. THE LOST SPY is part history, part detective story--a biography of Isaiah "Cy" Oggins, a 1920s American Communist turned Soviet spy. In 1947, after eight years in the Gulag, Oggins was "liquidated"--murdered in Moscow, by lethal injection, on Stalin's personal orders.
BLACK EARTH and THE LOST SPY were named to a number of Best-Books-of-the-Year lists, including those of The New York Public Library, NPR, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The Times Literary Supplement. BLACK EARTH was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
In addition to teaching, I am a contributor to The New York Times Magazine, where I write on U.S. and foreign affairs. My work has also appeared in numerous national and international publications, including Harper’s, National Geographic, The New Republic, The New York Times Book Review, Outside, The Washington Post, and WIRED.
A frequent commentator on the BBC, CNN, and NPR, I've also reported and written for PBS documentaries, including a Bill Moyers Special on 9/11.
At Lang, my interest lies in creating a classroom not of pre-professional journalists, but critical readers and writers. The emphasis is not on acquiring skills, but learning craft—through writing, rewriting and more rewriting. As a co-founder of our new Journalism+Design program, I have enjoyed opening the classroom to as wide a spectrum of media as possible—from documentaries to photojournalism to music.
As a working journalist, teaching has been a boon to my writing life. More than any single publication or editor, the undergraduates I’ve encountered have helped to restore my faith in the practice and purpose of journalism in America.
Thursdays & Fridays, 12 - 6 p.m.
BA, (MA) Russian Language & Literature, Oxford University.
BA, College of Letters, Wesleyan University.
• Black Earth: A Journey Through Russia After the Fall (WW Norton, 2004)
• Chechnya: To the Heart of A Conflict (WW Norton, 2005)
• The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin’s Secret Service (WW Norton, 2008)
Independent Study (Open Campus)
News, Narrative & Design III
Ind Senior Project (Open Campus)