Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Pulitzer Prize winner, Medill alum Jonathan Eig seeks to tell ‘ambitious’ stories through biography

Illustration by Lily Ogburn
Eig won the 2024 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for his sixth book, “King: A Life.”

When Jonathan Eig (Medill ’86) was a student at Northwestern, he was thrilled at the chance to become a newspaper reporter after graduating. He never expected to one day win a Pulitzer Prize.

Eig, a New York native now living in Chicago, has spent much of his life pursuing his dream of being a reporter. He transitioned to a career as a biographer in 2005 when he published his first book, “Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig”. 

Now, almost two decades later, Eig has won the 2024 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for “King: a Life,” his account of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life.

“I’m still walking on air,” Eig said about the recent achievement.

From writing biographies to sports articles for the Rockland County Journal News, Eig has always been a storyteller. His parents, Phyllis and David Eig, said he has been a strong writer since childhood — always involved with his school newspapers.

While Jonathan Eig’s parents didn’t know what his career goals were when he started reporting, they always supported his endeavors, including attending journalism school. 

“He showed not just an ability, he loved it,” Phyllis Eig said. “We supported whatever it was he wanted to do, as long as it was legal, healthy and it made him happy.” 

Jonathan Eig joined The Daily Northwestern’s campus desk in his first year at NU. By his senior year, he was The Daily’s Campus Editor.

At The Daily, Jonathan Eig met Robert Kazel, a city reporter at the time, and now a lifelong friend. Kazel said in an email to The Daily that his first impression of Eig was that he was a “competitive” reporter with great journalism skills. 

“I didn’t need to be at The Daily long before realizing that Jonathan was highly respected by his editors and peers, someone with not only terrific writing skills but strong ambition and drive to tackle complex and difficult subjects,” Kazel said.

After graduating, Jonathan Eig reported for several news outlets, including The Times-Picayune, Dallas Morning News, Chicago Magazine and The Wall Street Journal.

However, Jonathan Eig said reading books compelled him to apply his journalism skills to write his own book.

“Writing newspaper stories and making stories is great, but books are more permanent,” he said. “You can say something bigger. And I just thought, ‘Maybe I can try.’” 

Jonathan Eig said he didn’t expect to succeed as an author. But when his first biography “Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig” reached the No. 10 spot on The New York Times Bestseller list, he swapped his career to writing books. 

Jonathan Eig said the skills he learned at The Daily and as a newspaper reporter are crucial to his work as a biographer. 

“I think journalists do research in a slightly different way than most academics,” he said.“I think that gave me an advantage as a book writer who knocked on doors, made cold calls, (and) dug through people’s basements and closets looking for old letters.”

Writing biographies is an all-consuming process, Jonathan Eig said. For a book like “King: A Life,” he said he spends a year or two compiling research. His process includes interviewing people, digging through archival materials and gathering all the information he can about his subject. 

“It’s one person trying to gather thousands, millions of data points about another person’s life, and then make sense of it all and translate it into something that’s pleasurable to read,” Jonathan Eig said. 

Jonathan Eig’s attention to detail paid off; his exhaustive biography of MLK gained national attention. “King: A Life” became a New York Times Bestseller, receiving a nomination for the National Book Award and winning the New-York Historical Society’s 2024 Barbara and David Zalaznick Book Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for Biography. 

When Jonathan Eig found out he had won the Pulitzer, he said he was ecstatic. 

“I wake up in the morning, and I can’t believe it actually happened,” he said. “It’s been like waking up on my birthday for the last seven days in a row.”

Email:  [email protected]

Twitter: @LilyOgburn

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