Q&A with 2021 MacArthur Fellow Daniel Alarcón | Columbia Journalism School
Daniel Alarcon smiling outdoors

Q&A with 2021 MacArthur Fellow Daniel Alarcón

What was your reaction when you got the news that you were named to the fellowship?

I was floored. The whole thing seemed so beautifully absurd to me that I couldn't speak for a few minutes. I think I was overcome by nervous laughter, and I had to sit down just to process the news. 

This work that you do crosses so many boundaries — geographically, linguistically and even across media platforms. How do you describe the intention or purpose of your storytelling, whether it is through radio or fiction? 

My first loyalty is to the idea of a good story, the kind of piece you stay up reading or miss your stop on the train listening to. I strive for this in my fiction and in my reporting, in print or in audio, in English or Spanish. If a piece of work isn't compelling at that very basic level, then your other intentions, noble though they may be, don't matter all that much. Beyond that, my work has really been about trying to understand Latin America and U.S. Latino communities at a really deep and human level. There are big political stories that take up so much space, but at the street level, often seem divorced from the daily lived reality of individuals and families and communities. That's what really interests me. How do people make sense of their place in the world? And how do those conclusions drive the decisions they make about their lives and their futures?

The expansion of Radio Ambulante to include El Hilo and the Lupa app really showed how much further and deeper this type of storytelling could go and how vital Latin America is to listeners around the world. What do you hope this success will do for our industry and for future journalists and audiences? 

I'd like to see more Latinx representation in the media, and specifically more BIPOC people in positions of editorial power, making decisions about what stories get told, which cut through the noise and reach audiences that need them. It's important, and to be clear, I don't see this as simply a matter of fairness and equity. It's about doing our job well. If we want a media that reports accurately and fairly on an increasingly diverse nation, then representation is vital.