Kotlowitz was raised in New York City, the son of former New York public television executive and former Harper's magazine editor Robert Kotlowitz. Kotlowitz received his undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University and is an alumnus of the Ragdale Foundation. He currently lives with his family just outside Chicago in the suburb of Oak Park.
Kotlowitz is the author of There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America, The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, and Never a City So Real, among other works. There Are No Children Here is the winner of the Carl Sandburg Award, a Christopher Award, and the Helen B. Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism. The New York Public Library selected this work as one of the 150 most important books of the twentieth century. The Other Side of the River received the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction. Kotlowitz's journalism awards include the George Foster Peabody Award, the Robert Kennedy F. Journalism Award and the George Polk Award.
Kotlowitz has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and Public Radio International’s This American Life. His articles have also appeared in Granta, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic and The New Republic. His work has also been included in numerous anthologies.
Between 2008 and 2011 Kotlowitz worked with documentary production studio Kartemquin Films and Hoop Dreams director Steve James as a producer on the documentary The Interrupters, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2011 to widespread critical acclaim. The project was inspired by Kotlowitz's 2008 New York Times Magazine article, "Blocking the Transmission of Violence." The film received the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature. a duPont Award, and was selected by numerous publications, including The New Yorker and Entertainment Weekly, as one of the top ten films of 2011.
Kotlowitz is a writer-in-residence at Northwestern University and has been a visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame and at Dartmouth College. He also has been a writer-in-residence at the University of Chicago. He is the recipient of eight honorary degrees.
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- Tue 5:30 PM (2010-01-26). "PlanIt Purple: 01/26/2010 Reading of Various Works by Alex Kotlowitz". Planitpurple.northwestern.edu. Retrieved 2011-01-13.
- "Run Aground on the Shores of Freedom". washingtonpost.com. 2009-08-02. Retrieved 2011-01-13.
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- Kotlowitz, Alex (2008-05-04). "Blocking the Transmission of Violence". NYTimes.com. Archived from the original on 21 January 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-03.
- Reaves, Jessica (2011-07-30). "Writer Gets New Vision From Film". The New York Times.
- Dargis, Manohla (2011-07-28). "‘The Interrupters,' a Documentary by Steve James - Review". The New York Times.
- "Prof. teaches writing techniques". TheDartmouth.com. 2010-08-20. Retrieved 2011-01-13.