A brain, a heart, and a Pulitzer

When Eli Saslow (CA 1987-1996) chose the subject for his most recent book, he could have hardly imagined how timely the story would become. 

The book, Rising Out of Hatred, chronicles the life of a white nationalist turned anti-racist activist. In late October, following the massacre which killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue, Saslow told NPR’s Terry Gross that there’s a “straight line” between the suspect charged in the attack and the views of the white nationalist movement.

In the interview, his second with Gross in five weeks, Saslow expressed sadness at the Pittsburgh attack.

“It seems like there’s a certain kind of inevitability,” he said. “I don’t think that this will be the last one, and I think probably, like a lot of us, I sort of live in fear and with a sense of dread of when is the next horrible thing like this going to happen?”

‘A love for writing’

Eli Saslow

Eli Saslow

Talk with Saslow and you realize he’s trying to make you feel comfortable—even when he’s the one being interviewed. This alumnus’s empathy and ability to connect with people has fueled his career as a writer and helped him win a Pulitzer Prize. And he says the roots of his empathy are at Colorado Academy. 

“CA instilled in me a love for writing and a lot of educational benefits,” he says, “but also it was a place where they valued empathy and thinking beyond yourself, all of which are things I employ in my work as a journalist.” 

A reporter for The Washington Post, Saslow writes immersive narrative stories, often on difficult topics—poverty, addiction, death. He won his Pulitzer in 2014 for a yearlong series about food stamps in the United States. He appeared on The Daily Show in September to discuss Rising out of Hatred and will speak about it on January 22, 2019 at a CA SPEAK lecture.  

An important place for family 

Saslow remembers the morning drives to school with his dad and two younger brothers—all heading to the same place. 

His brothers were CA students, too, and his father, Warren Saslow, taught English at CA Middle School from 1983 to 2003. During summers Eli Saslow taught tennis lessons at CA and logged hours at the pool with the rest of his family. 

“Our family spent a ton of time at CA and made a lot of memories there,” he says. “It’s a super important place to me.” 

He credits the CA English curriculum—including his father’s class—with laying the foundation for his path as a writer. To this day, the elder Saslow copy edits his Pulitzer Prize-winning son’s writing, and still makes it better.  

One of the greatest young journalists in America 

Saslow started at The Post in 2004 shortly after completing his bachelor’s degree in journalism at Syracuse University. He’s written on politics, sports, and food and now focuses on in-depth, long-form journalism. 

Living in Portland, Ore., with his wife and three children, Saslow splits his time among writing at home, working in D.C., and gathering stories throughout the country. His favorite days are when he’s out in the field, learning about people’s lives.  

A recent piece of his examined the immigration crisis through stories of family separations, not at our country’s border, but within our country, as a result of crackdowns on illegal immigration. Saslow deems it a privilege to tell the story of marginalized people, whose lives are often not given much attention.  

With a focus on dialogue and scene, Saslow works to create a direct interaction between the reader and the story. His ultimate goal: remove himself from the story as completely as possible. 

“My hope is for you, the reader, to feel like you have witnessed something for yourself and, because of that, to draw stronger conclusions about how it affects you,” he says. “I want to help people think differently about the experiences of others.” 

According to Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism, Saslow “writes in a way that makes a reader feel they are witnessing everyday life in the context of something greater happening in our society.”  

David Maraniss, author of Barack Obama: The Story, called Saslow “one of the great young journalists in America.”   

CA’s service to society 

Saslow believes CA played a big role in developing his ability to connect with his story subjects.  

“CA values interpersonal connection and closeness in really remarkable ways,” he says. “It’s such a loving, close-knit community that has had a really big impact on my career.” 

In his work, he says, it often seems as though empathy, morality, and critical thinking are in decline in the U.S. 

“In the age we’re in in this country, where misinformation and polarization seem to reign, building critical thinking, empathy, and openness to new ideas has never been more important,” he says. “CA has built a legacy of fortifying those things in students, and that’s an incredible service to society.”