This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for August 12, 2017: Black Bears

August 12, 2017: birthday: Katherine Boo

Today is the birthday of investigative journalist Katherine Boo (books by this author), born in Washington, D.C. (1964). Throughout her career, she has been interested in writing about one subject alone: the plight of the poor and the disadvantaged. She wrote for the Washington Post for 10 years, from 1993 to 2003; while she was there, she wrote a series exposing neglect and abuse in Washington’s group homes for the intellectually disabled. Her articles prompted a set of reforms and led to her being awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service (2000). “Very little journalism is world changing,” Boo says. “But if change is to happen, it will be because people with power have a better sense of what’s happening to people who have none.”

She published her first book in 2012. That book is Behind the Beautiful Forevers, and it follows the lives of several residents of the Annawadi slum in Mumbai. Boo lived in Mumbai for several years while her husband worked there, and her book is the result of nearly four years of research. At first, the slum’s residents viewed the petite blonde American as a “circus act,” Boo says, but eventually they came to trust her. “I wasn’t trying to gather people around a table and talk to them,” she says. “I was just going where they went. I was doing what they did, whether it was teaching kindergarten or stealing scrap metal at the airport or sorting garbage. And I would sit and listen and talk to them intermittently as they did their work.” The book’s title comes from one of the slum’s landmarks: a wall covered in ads for Italian tiles that are said to be “beautiful forever.”

In addition to her Pulitzer and a number of other awards, Boo was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant (2002), and won the National Book Award in nonfiction for Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012).