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Ellis Cose Biography

Selected writings


Journalist, writer

Ellis Cose was a Chicago newspaper columnist before he was old enough to vote, and from that brilliant beginning has gone on to build successful careers in three related fields. A respected journalist, Cose has worked as reporter and columnist for several major newspapers and went on to become editor of the New York Daily News's editorial page and contributing editor to Newsweek; he is the author of a number of well-received, bestselling books; and he has also served with government and university think tanks as an expert in journalism and the politics of energy. Honored with several journalistic awards, including a lifetime achievement award from the New York Association of Black Journalists, Ellis Cose has secured a place among the leaders of his profession.

Cose was born in Chicago on February 20, 1951, the son of Raney and Jetta Cose. He grew up in one of Chicago's high-rise public housing projects—an environment notorious for perpetuating crime and stunting lives—and he might well have remained there if not for the political upheavals and rising black consciousness of the 1960s. By the time Cose reached high school the civil rights movement and Vietnam War had given a political edge to his youthful dissatisfactions, and after demonstrating an early interest in mathematics, he found his voice as a writer. As he told Publishers Weekly in a 1992 interview, "In the midst of everything blowing up, the big riots and [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] getting killed [in 1968], I got this notion that I had something worthwhile to say."

Like many other budding authors, however, Cose found his high school English classes more of a hindrance than a help to his development. After drifting through three years of indifferent work, in his senior year Cose met a teacher named Mrs. Klinger who encouraged him to write about whatever interested him. In short order, Cose turned out two hundred pages of essays on a variety of social and racial topics, so impressing Klinger that she forwarded his work to Gwendolyn Brooks, the famed black poet laureate of Illinois. Brooks congratulated Cose on his precocious talent and invited him to join her circle of writers, an honor for which the rebellious Cose had little use. "I'm seventeen in with these guys in their thirties and forties," he recalled in Publishers Weekly. "I didn't stay very long." More to his taste was a novel he completed soon thereafter and sold to a small publishing firm; the publisher promptly went bankrupt, however, and Cose went off to the University of Illinois at Chicago to study psychology.

While a student, Cose contributed regularly to the university newspaper, sharpening his skills as a political commentator. On a momentary inspiration he sent a collection of his work to Ralph Otwell, managing editor of the Chicago Sun-Times. Otwell liked what he saw and asked Cose to write a column for the paper's school edition. In 1970, when Cose was still only nineteen years old, Otwell and Sun-Times editor Jim Hoge invited him to contribute a column to the regular edition of the Sun-Times, making him the youngest columnist in the history of Chicago newspapers.

The exalted position brought with it a huge responsibility for Cose, who suddenly found himself a major spokesperson for Chicago's black population at a time of extreme social tension. While radical black organizations such as the Black Panthers were attacking the foundations of the so-called "establishment," Cose was given the task and honor of articulating the needs of black people in the pages of one of the establishment's leading journals, all while completing his degree in psychology at the University of Illinois. It was the kind of pressure-filled situation journalists thrive upon, and Cose proved to be a born journalist. He continued writing columns for the Sun-Times for seven years, during which time he completed both his bachelor's degree and a master's from George Washington University in science, technology, and public policy.

In 1977 Cose was named senior fellow and director of energy studies at the Joint Center for Political Studies in Washington, D.C. Energy and the politics of its distribution became matters of great concern for Americans after the oil crisis of 1973-1974, and Cose spent much of the later 1970s researching and writing about the politics of energy. The fruit of this labor took the form of several books, culminating in the 1983 publication of Decentralizing Energy Decisions: The Rebirth of Community Power.

In Decentralizing Energy Decisions, Cose addresses the growing awareness by Americans of the country's critical shortage of energy sources. The frustration and helplessness felt by many consumers following the 1973 oil crisis prompted a wave of resolutions calling for energy management on the level of local communities, together with a general sentiment that "small is better" in all aspects of economic and social life. Cose describes the efforts of communities both large and small to remedy what he calls the "loss of control many Americans feel over important parts of their lives." He analyzes the contradictions inherent between the desire for local control of resources and the realities of modern energy production and distribution, and he concludes that while local empowerment is possible and in some cases a reality, few communities are willing to pay the price for such control. As the author succinctly put it in his book, community activists need "to realize that even a 'quiet revolution' is not free." After his stint at the Joint Center for Political Studies, Cose resumed his career in journalism as a columnist and editorial writer for the Detroit Free Press between 1979 and 1981. He later joined the staff of the newly created USA Today as a special reporter on management and labor issues, remaining there until 1983 when he was named president of the Institute for Journalism Education at the University of California at Berkeley.

Cose's three-year tenure at the institute led to the 1989 publication of The Press: Inside America's Most Powerful Newspaper Empires—From the Newsrooms to the Boardrooms, his first book to receive widespread notice. In this ambitious book Cose attempts to chronicle the changes at five of the leading U.S. newspapers between the early 1960s and late 1980s. (The five papers studied are the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and the Knight-Ridder and Gannett chains.)

At a Glance …

Born on February 20, 1951, in Chicago, IL; son of Raney and Jetta (Cameron) Cose; married Lee Llambelis (attorney); children: Elisa Maria. Education: University of Illinois at Chicago, BA, 1972; George Washington University, MA, Science, Technology and Public Policy, 1978.

Career: Chicago Sun-Times, columnist and reporter, 1970-77; Joint Center for Political Studies, Washington, DC, senior fellow and director of energy policy studies, 1977-79; Detroit Free Press, Detroit, MI, editorial writer and columnist, 1979-81; resident fellow at National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council, 1981-82; special writer for USA Today, 1982-83; president of Institute for Journalism Education, University of California at Berkeley, 1983-86; Gannett Center for Media Studies fellow, Columbia University, New York City, 1987; New York Daily News, editorial page editor, 1991-93; Newsweek, contributing editor, 1993–.

Selected awards: Illinois United Press International, first place award, 1973; Stick-o-Type Award from Chicago Newspaper Guild, 1975; Lincoln University National Unity Award for best political reporting, 1975 and 1977; New York Association of Black Journalists, Lifetime Achievement Award, 2002; National Association of Black Journalists, Best Magazine Feature Award, 2003; New York Association of Black Journalists, Awards for best commentary and magazine features, 2003; Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, Vision Award (first recipient of the newly inaugurated annual award), 2004.

Addresses: Office—Newsweek, 251 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019; Web—www.elliscose.com.

The Press focuses on a period during which these mostly family-owned newspapers came under increasing pressure from business advisers to diversify and enlarge their non-news holdings—to become more like other large corporations and less like the traditional ideal of an independent, "above the fray" observer of the national scene. Cose provides thumbnail sketches of each of the paper's origins as background for his tale of boardroom battles and generational change and for the most part concludes that the papers have avoided the conflicts of interest possible in diversified asset holdings by confining their growth to the media business.

Following a year with the Gannett Center for Media Studies at Columbia University, Cose spent several years researching and writing another substantial book, A Nation of Strangers: Prejudice, Politics, and the Populating of America. Here Cose provides a history of America's ambivalent attitude toward the waves of immigration that have contributed to its population during the last three centuries. The United States was created by immigrants, as Cose points out, yet each generation of citizens has feared and opposed the arrival of certain groups of later immigrants. At various times, Americans have been worried about the increasing numbers of Catholic, Irish, Jewish, Chinese, and Hispanic individuals in this country, to name only a few of the religious and ethnic groups singled out for hostility. As Cose wrote in the epilogue to Nation, "For while it is true America's history is one of absorbing successive waves of immigrants, it is also a history of intermittent outbreaks of anti-immigrant hysteria." Cose decries the existence of such discrimination but sees little hope that it will soon end.

In August of 1991 Cose became editor of the New York Daily News 's editorial page and soon became chairman of the editorial board at the paper. He moved on in 1993 to accept a contributing editor position with Newsweek, where he has continued to report on matters of social and racial consequence in America and beyond.

His journalistic career affords him constant stimulation, an energizing "hustle-bustle" of daily news, but he has continued his authorship of powerful book-length social commentaries on race and social relations. He even expanded some of his journalistic reports into book-length ponderings of particular topics. Published in 2004, Cose's book Beyond Brown v. Board: The Final Battle for Excellence in American Education provided a base for a Newsweek cover story on the U.S. Supreme Court's historic school desegregation decision in 1954 and its aftermath as seen in the challenges faced by American educators into the new millennium.

Cose's reputation as a keen observer of the human and political experience of black Americans was solidified in his books The Rage of a Privileged Class, The Envy of the World: On Being a Black Man in America, Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness Reconciliation, Reparation and Revenge. The Rage of a Privileged Class, an examination of the difficulties middle-class blacks have succeeding in America, became a bestseller. The Envy of the World: On Being a Black Man in America offers case studies that illustrate how prejudice shapes the experience of black American males.

And Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness Reconciliation, Reparation and Revenge details opposing arguments aimed at addressing social justice throughout the world. Recurring topics in his books about social justice are reconciliation, revenge, and forgiveness. At the dawn of the new millennium, Cose was primed to offer more insightful commentaries on society, for not only were his journalistic works and books highly praised by critics, he also proved himself to be a skillful and thus sought after speaker and appeared regularly on television shows and radio programs.

Selected writings

Energy and the Urban Crisis, Joint Center for Political Studies, 1978.

(Editor) Energy and Equity: Some Social Concerns, Joint Center for Political Studies, 1979.

Decentralizing Energy Decisions: The Rebirth of Community Power, Westview, 1983.

The Press: Inside America's Most Powerful Newspaper Empires—From the Newsrooms to the Boardrooms, Morrow, 1989.

A Nation of Strangers: Prejudice, Politics, and the Populating of America, Morrow, 1992.

The Rage of a Privileged Class, HarperCollins, 1993.

A Man's World: How Real Is Male Privilege—And How High Is Its Price?, Harper Collins, 1995.

Color-Blind: Seeing Beyond Race In A Race-Obsessed World, HarperCollins, 1997.

(Editor) The Darden Dilemma: 12 Black Writers On Justice, Race, And Conflicting Loyalties, HarperPerennial, 1997.

The Best Defense, HarperCollins, 1998.

The Envy of the World: On Being a Black Man in America, Washington Square Press, 2002.

Beyond Brown v. Board: The Final Battle for Excellence in American Education, Rockefeller Foundation, 2004.

Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness Reconciliation, Reparation and Revenge, Atria Books, 2004.



Black Enterprise, July 2004.

Newsweek, June 3, 1985.

Publishers Weekly, March 23, 1992.

Time, November 27, 1989.


"Black Men in America," National Public Radio: Weekend Edition, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1140451 (March 9, 2005). Ellis Cose, www.elliscose.com (March 9, 2005).

"Ellis Cose: Enduring Hardship and 'A Bone to Pick," National Public Radio: Tavis Smiley Show, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1868738 (March 9, 2005).

—Jonathan Martin and

Sara Pendergast

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