Author, Radio Producer and Columbia Journalism School Professor Daniel Alarcón Wins MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant”

September 28, 2021

Daniel Alarcón, an Assistant Professor of Journalism, a celebrated novelist and co-creator of the award-winning Spanish-language podcast Radio Ambulante, has been named a 2021 MacArthur Fellow by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the foundation announced today.  

Also known as the "Genius Grant," the fellowship recognizes "people of outstanding talent" across a variety of disciplines, including artists, writers, scientists, teachers, and entrepreneurs. Described as an investment in the "originality, insight, and potential" of its recipients, the fellowship comes with a stipend of $625,000 to encourage the continuation of their work.  

"Daniel Alarcón is a writer and radio producer exploring the social, cultural and linguistic ties that connect people across Latin America and Spanish-speaking communities in the Americas," read the MacArthur citation. "His powerful narrative storytelling — in English and Spanish, fiction and nonfiction, print and audio — chronicles individual lives and underreported topics against the backdrop of broader geopolitical and historical forces in the United States and Central and South America." Alarcón, 44, expressed surprise and gratitude at the news of his being named a MacArthur Fellow.

"When I shifted a lot of my energy and focus to reporting in Spanish on Latin America and U.S. Latinx communities, I did so assuming that I'd never be in the conversation for a prize like this,” he said. “I'm immensely proud of this recognition."

In 2011, Alarcón and his wife, Carolina Guerrero, co-founded Radio Ambulante, a groundbreaking podcast featuring long-form narrative stories from Latin America. With over 200 episodes produced in over 20 countries and more than 8 million downloads a year, Radio Ambulante tells stories of love and exile, youth culture and politics, families and migration, while showcasing the unique voices and diverse accents that make the region come alive: from the Colombian shaman who claims to control the rain; to the Chilean student who stages a protest at his high school graduation; to the Argentine mother who fights for legal recognition of her child’s gender identity. With a team of over 20 journalists, editors and producers in more than a dozen cities, Radio Ambulante covers Latin America like no other outlet. NPR became the podcast’s exclusive distributor in 2016.

In March 2020, Radio Ambulante launched its second show, a weekly news and analysis podcast called El Hilo (The Thread), for which Alarcón serves as Editorial Director. The show is now co-produced with Vice News. In addition, Radio Ambulante partnered with a technology company, Jiveworld, to launch a mobile app called Lupa that helps Spanish-language learners deepen their understanding of the language through the podcast’s stories. 

Born in Peru and raised in Birmingham, Ala., Alarcón started his career as a fiction writer. His first short story, "City of Clowns," was published in The New Yorker in 2003, and his first collection, "War by Candlelight," was published by HarperCollins two years later. His first novel, "Lost City Radio,” followed in 2007 and was named a Best Book of the Year by critics across the country and was translated into over a dozen languages. His novel “At Night We Walk in Circles” (Riverhead Books) was a finalist for the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Foundation Award. “The King is Always Above the People” (also by Riverhead Books) was published in 2017 and was longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award.

Alarcón has also worked as a long-form print reporter in Spanish and English, contributing to the Peruvian magazine Etiqueta Negra as well as Harper’s, the New York Times Magazine, El País and Granta. In 2018, he became a contributing writer to The New Yorker, covering Latin America.

Alarcón graduated from Columbia University in 1999 with a B.A. in Anthropology. In 2004 he earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa.  He joined the University of California Berkeley’s Graduate Journalism School in 2012-13 as an Investigative Reporting Fellow. He joined Columbia Journalism School’s faculty in 2014.