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Tracy Kidder

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Tracy Kidder
Tracy Kidder at the College of Wooster, 2009
Tracy Kidder at the College of Wooster, 2009
Born (1945-11-12) November 12, 1945 (age 78)
New York City
Alma materHarvard University
University of Iowa
Literary movementLiterary journalism
Notable worksThe Soul of a New Machine
Mountains Beyond Mountains
Notable awardsPulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction
1982 The Soul of a New Machine
ChildrenNathaniel T. Kidder, Alice Bukhman

John Tracy Kidder (born November 12, 1945) is an American writer of nonfiction books. He received the Pulitzer Prize for his The Soul of a New Machine (1981), about the creation of a new computer at Data General Corporation. He has received praise and awards for other works, including his biography of Paul Farmer, a physician and anthropologist, titled Mountains Beyond Mountains (2003).

Kidder is considered a literary journalist because of the strong story line and personal voice in his writing.[2]: 5  He has cited as his writing influences John McPhee, A. J. Liebling, and George Orwell.[3]: 127–128  In a 1984 interview he said, "McPhee has been my model. He's the most elegant of all the journalists writing today, I think."[2]: 7 

Kidder wrote in a 1994 essay, "In fiction, believability may have nothing to do with reality or even plausibility. It has everything to do with those things in nonfiction. I think that the nonfiction writer's fundamental job is to make what is true believable."[4]

Early life and education[edit]

John Tracy Kidder was born November 12, 1945, in New York City.[5]: 263  He graduated from Phillips Academy in 1963.[6] He attended Harvard College, originally majoring in political science, but switching to English after taking a course in creative writing from Robert Fitzgerald.[7] He received an AB degree from Harvard in 1967.[5]: 263 

Kidder served in the United States Army as a first lieutenant, Military Intelligence, Vietnam, from 1967 to 1969.[5]: 263  After returning from Vietnam, he wrote for some time and was admitted to the Iowa Writers' Workshop.[3]: 128  He received an MFA degree from the University of Iowa in 1974.[5]: 263 


Kidder wrote his first book, The Road to Yuba City: a Journey into the Juan Corona Murders, while at the University of Iowa. The Atlantic Monthly commissioned the work, and he continued writing as a freelancer for the magazine during the 1970s.[3]: 128  The Road to Yuba City was a critical failure,[3]: 128, 137  and Kidder said in a 1995 interview that

I can't say anything intelligent about that book, except that I learned never to write about a murder case. The whole experience was disgusting, so disgusting, in fact, that in 1981 I went to Doubleday and bought back the rights to the book. I don't want The Road to Yuba City to see the light of day again.[3]: 129 

Kidder has said that, unlike many other writers, he was not much influenced by his Vietnam experience: "Of course, whenever you're in an experience like Vietnam, it is bound to influence your work; it's inevitable, but I really don't think it greatly shaped me as a writer."[3]: 128  His works for The Atlantic Monthly include several essays and short stories about the Vietnam War, including "The Death of Major Great" (1974), "Soldiers of Misfortune" (1978), and "In Quarantine" (1980). Writing in 1997, David Bennett rated these three pieces "among the finest reporting to come out of Vietnam."[3]: 128 

Kidder's second book, The Soul of a New Machine (1981), was much more successful than his first. His account of the complex community and environment of programming and computer development won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1982. He has continued to write nonfiction books and articles, and these have been well received by the critics.[3]: 127  Kidder's 2009 book, Strength in What Remains, is a portrait of a man who survived the genocide in Burundi.

He has explored a wide range of topics through his books: House (1985), a "biography" of a couple having their first house built, and the people involved in the project; Among Schoolchildren (1989), set in an elementary-school classroom in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and reflecting on US education through the lives of these 20 children and their teacher (these two books were both bestsellers); and Old Friends (1993), which explored the daily lives and personal growth of a pair of elderly men in a nursing home. His books have made "Notable" annual lists of The New York Times and received positive praise from critics, in addition to awards.

In fall 2010 Kidder was selected as the first A. M. Rosenthal Writer-in-Residence at the Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. At the center, he worked with his onetime editor at The Atlantic, Richard Todd, on a book about writing, titled Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction.[8] He lectured to students and did research to identify his next narrative subject.

Selected awards[edit]


  • Kidder, Tracy (1974). The Road to Yuba City: A Journey into the Juan Corona Murders. Garden City: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-02865-3.
  • Kidder, Tracy (1981). The Soul of a New Machine. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-49170-9.
  • Kidder, Tracy (1985). House. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-00191-3.
  • Kidder, Tracy (1990) [1989]. Among Schoolchildren. New York: Avon Books. ISBN 0-380-71089-7.
  • Kidder, Tracy (1993). Old Friends. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-395-71088-3.
  • Kidder, Tracy (2000) [1999]. Home Town. New York: Washington Square Press. ISBN 0-671-78521-4.
  • Kidder, Tracy (2003). Mountains Beyond Mountains. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-375-50616-0.
  • Kidder, Tracy (2005). My Detachment: A Memoir. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-375-50615-2.
  • Kidder, Tracy (2009). Strength in What Remains. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-1-4000-6621-6.
  • Kidder, Tracy; Todd, Richard (2013). Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-1-4000-6975-0.
  • Kidder, Tracy (2016). A Truck Full of Money: One Man's Quest to Recover from Great Success. Random House. ISBN 978-0-8129-9524-4.
  • Kidder, Tracy (2023). Rough Sleepers: Dr. Jim O'Connell's Urgent Mission to Bring Healing to Homeless People. Random House. ISBN 978-1-9848-0143-2.[16]


  1. ^ This was the award for hardcover "General Nonfiction".
    From 1980 to 1983 in National Book Awards history there were several nonfiction subcategories, including General Nonfiction, with dual hardcover and paperback awards in most categories.


  1. ^ "On Main Street With Tracy Kidder". partners.nytimes.com. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Sims, Norman (1984). Sims, Norman (ed.). The Literary Journalists. Ballantine Books. pp. 3–25. ISBN 978-0-345-31081-1.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Bennett, David (1997). "Tracy Kidder". Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 185. Gale Research. pp. 127–137. ISBN 0-7876-1119-0.
  4. ^ Kidder, Tracy (February 1994). "Facts and the nonfiction writer". The Writer. 107 (2): 14–16. ISSN 0043-9517.
  5. ^ a b c d Daniel Jones; John D. Jorgenson, eds. (1998). "Kidder, Trina 1945–". Contemporary Authors: New Revision Series. Vol. 61. Gale Research. pp. 263–267. ISBN 0-7876-2004-1.
  6. ^ "Phillips Academy – Notable Alumni – Literature, Publishing & Journalism". Phillips Academy. 2009. Archived from the original on June 20, 2009. Retrieved June 10, 2009.
  7. ^ Kidder, Tracy (Fall 1996). "Courting the approval of the dead". TriQuarterly (97): 43–59. ISSN 0041-3097.
  8. ^ "Random House website". July 27, 2023.
  9. ^ "The Pulitzer Prizes: General Nonfiction". Columbia University. June 5, 2009. Retrieved June 8, 2009.
  10. ^ "National Book Awards – 1982". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2009-06-08.
  11. ^ "10th Annual RFK Book Award". Robert F. Kennedy Memorial. Archived from the original on June 20, 2009. Retrieved June 8, 2009.
  12. ^ "Past Winners 1986–2002". English-Speaking Union of the United States. January 11, 2007. Archived from the original on August 20, 2008. Retrieved June 8, 2009.
  13. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  14. ^ "Marvin Minsky Biography and Interview". Awards Council member Marvin Minsky presents the Academy's Golden Plate Award to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder during the 2001 Academy of Achievement Summit in San Antonio, Texas.
  15. ^ "Lettre Ulysses Award: Winners 2004". Lettre International. Retrieved June 9, 2009.
  16. ^ Briefly reviewed in the January 2023 issue of Harper's Magazine, pp.71–73.

External links[edit]