Her novels include Bitter River (2013), the second in a mystery series featuring prosecutor Belfa "Bell" Elkins, a crusader against the illegal prescription drug trade thriving in rural America. The series is set in the fictional town of Acker's Gap, West Virginia, a "shabby afterthought" of a town, according to A Killing in the Hills (2012), first in the series.
Keller won the annual Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for her three-part narrative account of the deadly Utica, Illinois tornado outbreak, published by the Chicago Tribune in April 2004. The jury called it a "gripping, meticulously reconstructed account of a deadly 10-second tornado". The Tribune has won many Pulitzers but Keller's prize was its first and remains its only win for feature writing.
Keller was born and raised in West Virginia. She graduated from Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, and earned a doctoral degree in English Literature from Ohio State University. Her master's thesis was an analysis of the Henry Roth novel, Call It Sleep. Her doctoral dissertation explored multiple biographies of Virginia Woolf (A poetics of literary biography: The creation of "Virginia Woolf", Ohio State, 1996). She has taught at Princeton University, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Chicago.
Keller was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University 1998–1999. She has served four times as a juror for the Pulitzer Prizes. Her reviews and commentary air on National Public Radio and on The Newshour (PBS).
- Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel: The Gun That Changed Everything and the Misunderstood Genius Who Invented It (Viking, 2008) – details the cultural impact of the Gatling gun
- Back Home (Egmont, 2009),named by Booklist as one of the top ten YA debut novels of the year
- A Killing in the Hills (Minotaur, 2012) – the first Bell Elkins mystery; received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus, and Booklist; winner of the Barry Award
- Bitter River (Minotaur, 2013) – the second Bell Elkins mystery
- "The 2005 Pulitzer Prize Winners: Feature Writing". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-11-17. With short biography and reprints of three works (Chicago Tribune articles December 5–7, 2004).
- Official website
- Biography from Chicago Women in Publishing
- Writers Talk Interview
- Julia Keller at Library of Congress Authorities, with 4 catalog records
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