Kirk W. Johnson

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Kirk W. Johnson
Johnson at the American Academy in Berlin, Fall 2010.
Johnson at the American Academy in Berlin, Fall 2010.
BornWest Chicago, IL
OccupationAuthor, Non-Profit
ResidenceLos Angeles, CA
Alma materUniversity of Chicago (2002)
SpouseMarie-Josée Cantin Johnson

Kirk W. Johnson is an American author and founder of The List Project, a not-for-profit organization that helps Iraqi refugees, who previously worked for the U.S. government during the Iraq War. He served as the U.S. Agency for International Development regional coordinator for reconstruction in Fallujah, Iraq in 2005. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Foreign Policy, among other publications.

Early life and education[edit]

Johnson was born in West Chicago, Illinois. His father, Thomas L. Johnson, served several terms as a Republican State Representative and Senator, and his mother, Virginia L. Johnson, was a policy advisor to the Illinois Attorney General. As a fifteen-year-old, Johnson visited Egypt with his grandmother, and began studying Arabic in evening classes at the College of DuPage, skipping his high school graduation to attend the Arabic Language Institute at the American University in Cairo.

He graduated from the University of Chicago in 2002, with a degree in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. In addition to studying in Syria on a Foreign Language Acquisition Grant (2001), Johnson received a Fulbright Scholarship to conduct research on political Islamism in Egypt (2002–03).

The List Project[edit]

Johnson was opposed to the Iraq War, but felt an ethical obligation to help with the reconstruction efforts, which he supported as a way of righting a wrong. After returning from Iraq, he was contacted by his former Iraqi colleagues, who were running for their lives as a result of working for the U.S. Government during the war. In December 2006, he wrote an op-ed for the "Los Angeles Times" calling upon the government to open its doors to these allies. In response, he was flooded with petitions from thousands of refugees, leading him to found the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies, a non-profit that marshaled hundreds of attorneys from the nations top law firms to represent their cases on a pro bono basis. Over the subsequent eight years, the List Project helped over 2,000 U.S.-affiliated Iraqis resettle to America. Johnson testified before Congress and worked closely with Senator Ted Kennedy toward the creation of the Special Immigrant Visa program, designated for Iraqis and Afghans that worked for the United States during the wars.

His work was profiled in 60 Minutes, the Today Show, The New Yorker, and This American Life; it was the subject of his 2013 memoir To Be a Friend Is Fatal: the Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind.


  • Senior Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, 2015–Present
  • MacDowell Fellow, 2013
  • Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, Fall 2011
  • Bosch Public Policy Fellow, American Academy in Berlin, Fall 2010
  • Yaddo, 2007
  • Fulbright Scholar, Egypt, 2002-3


  • The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century (2018). Viking.
  • To Be a Friend Is Fatal: The Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind (2013). Scribner.


  • "A DACA Recipient With an American Life Considers the Future." 9/13/17. The New Yorker
  • "A Temporary Reprieve for Some Iraqi Refugees." 2/7/17. The New Yorker
  • "A Yazidi Refugee, Stranded at the Airport by Trump." 1/28/17. The New Yorker
  • "The Iraqi Friends We Abandoned." 6/26/14. The New York Times
  • "Last Request." September 2013. Harper's
  • "Your Patience Does Assist Us in Accelerating the Process." 8/31/13. The Toronto Star
  • "The List." 8/15/13. Guernica Magazine
  • "The Iraqi Allies We Left Behind." 3/21/13. Wall Street Journal
  • "In Iraq, Abandoning Our Friends." 11/15/11. The New York Times
  • "We can’t abandon Iraqis who aided the U.S." 7/24/11. The Washington Post
  • “The Insurgency Within.” Spring 2011. The Berlin Journal
  • “Krieg, Abzug und Moral.” 9/24/10. Der Tagesspiegel
  • "Left Behind in Iraq." 5/18/10. Foreign Policy
  • "Hounded by Insurgents, Abandoned by Us." 4/18/07. The New York Times
  • “After the Fall.” 1/27/07. The Washington Post Magazine
  • "Safeguarding Our Allies." 9/15/06. Los Angeles Times

Testimonies and public statements[edit]


  • The List, Documentary, 2012 (as himself)

External links[edit]