Julia Keller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and acclaimed author of fiction and nonfiction, has been appointed the inaugural Annenberg Visiting Chair of the Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy, for the 2024 spring semester.
Keller, who wrote a dissertation on literary biography for her Ph.D. at Ohio State University, will teach “Catching Lives,” on the art of reporting and writing life stories. The course title comes from Ann Wroe, a biographer and obituary writer for The Economist, summing up a skill Keller describes as “capturing and conveying the crucial elements that illuminate a subject’s personality, behavior, motivation, and even their soul.”
Keller was awarded the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing for what judges called a “gripping, meticulously reconstructed account of a deadly 10-second tornado that ripped through Utica, Illinois,” a three-part account published in the Chicago Tribune that traces each victim's path to their deadly fate. She spent 12 years as a staff writer and book critic for the Tribune, during a journalism career that began when she worked as a reporting intern in Washington, D.C., for syndicated investigative columnist Jack Anderson. She has also been a staff writer and media critic for the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio. From 2006 to 2010, Keller was an on-air essayist for the PBS NewsHour, and contributes book reviews to NPR's All Things Considered.
Now an independent scholar and author, Keller has written and published 14 books, including a biography of Richard Jordan Gatling, the complicated inventor of the Gatling Gun. A series of award-winning crime novels set in her native Appalachia features prosecutor Belfa Elkins, “one of the most fully realized characters in fiction today,” according to bestselling mystery author Michael Connelly. Her 2023 nonfiction book, Quitting: A Life Strategy, has been called “as entertaining as it is important” by Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt. She addresses the book’s themes in her 2023 TEDx Talk, “Precision Quitting: How to Get Ahead By Giving Up.”
“Julia Keller’s body of work spans genres and forms of media, reflecting her intellectual curiosity, creative versatility, and deep empathy,” Gallivan Program director Jason Kelly says. “Her experience and insight will be a source of enduring inspiration for our students.”
Born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia, Keller received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Marshall University before earning her doctorate at Ohio State. She studied the history of literacy during a 1998 Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University.
This is not her first stint teaching at Notre Dame. In 2008, Keller was a visiting professor in the Gallivan Program. She also has taught at Princeton University and the University of Chicago.
“Among the institutions at which I’ve taught, the students at Notre Dame would have to rank at the very top,” Keller says. “The class conversations were scintillating because the students were lively, well-informed and highly motivated. Oh, and they were pretty smart, too.”