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CWP | Writer as Witness

2015 Writer as Witness Colloquium

Writer as Witness 2015

Chasing Chaos: A Decade in and Out of Humanitarian Aid
By Jessica Alexander

Bender Arena,
Wed., Sept. 9.
8:30 p.m.


On behalf of the Department of Literature and the College Writing Program, we welcome you to American University. To set the stage for your first year here at AU, we have chosen a book that we call our "community text" for you to read before you arrive in August. You and your classmates will discuss the book and write about it in your College Writing class. The College Writing Program and the Campus Store will also sponsor an essay contest to honor the best writing inspired by the community text.

We're delighted to announce this year's choice: Jessica Alexander's Chasing Chaos: A Decade in and Out of Humanitarian Aid. We will bring Alexander to campus this fall for the eighteenth annual Writer as Witness Colloquium on Wednesday, September 9, at 8:30 p.m. in Bender Arena. She will address the American University community and meet with students and faculty to discuss the book.

In clear, engaging prose, Alexander reflects on her experiences from over a decade of international humanitarian aid work.Author Jonathan M. Katz notes: "In Chasing Chaos, Alexander takes us to a place where few outsiders can go, cracking open the rarefied world of humanitarianism to bare its contradictions – and her own – with boldness and humor."Alexander has over 12 years of experience working with various NGO's and UN operations.She received a Fulbright scholarship to research child soldiers in Sierra Leone in 2006; her research there was presented as expert evidence in the human rights case brought against former Liberian President Charles Taylor by the UN-backed Special Court.Alexander has also conducted research in places as fraught and far afield as Rwanda, Darfur, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Myanmar, South Sudan, Pakistan, Haiti and the Horn of Africa.Her candid – often irreverent – chronicle of aid work around the world provides a window into what happens after we see a crisis from afar, write a check or box up household goods, and hope that we have done good.

Jessica Alexander is an adjunct professor at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, New York University's Wagner School of Public Service, and the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University. She received a Masters of Public Health and Master of International Affairs from Columbia University in 2005. She is pursuing her PhD at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, focusing her research on accountability in humanitarian action.

See full Writer as Witness 2015 Announcement.
Find Chasing Chaos at the AU Campus Store.

Previous Writer as Witness Texts

2014: The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media, by Brooke Gladstone

2013: Notes from No Man's Land, by Eula Biss

2012: The End of Country, by Seamus McGraw

2011: The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel

2010: The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy, by Lisa Dodson

2009: True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, by Farhad Manjoo
2008: The Devil's Highway, by Luis Alberto Urrea
2007: The Ponds of Kalambayi, by Mike Tidwell
2006: Love in the Driest Season, by Neely Tucker
2005: Fragments of Grace, by Pamela Constable
2004: Newjack, by Ted Conover
2003: First They Killed My Father, by Loung Ung
2002: Savage Inequalities, by Jonathan Kozol
2001: Bad Land, by Jonathan Raban
2000: Almost a Woman, by Esmeralda Santiago
1999: My Own Country, by Abraham Verghese
1998: There Are No Children Here, by Alex Kotlowitz


*Details will be posted soon regarding the 2015 WaW Student Essay Competition!

Read 2015 winner Andrea Lin's Writer as Witness Contest Essay: "It's a White-Washed Life."

Once you’ve read Chasing Chaos and have heard Jessica Alexander speak on Wednesday, September 9, you’ll have the opportunity to contribute your voice to the Writer as Witness Program.

Open to all College Writing students. Sponsored by the College Writing Program and AU Campus Store.

For more information, please contact John Hyman, Director of the College Writing Program, at

AU Store Discount
& Library Resources

Coming Soon: AU Library Resources for Chasing Chaos!

The AU Campus Store will be offering Chasing Chaos at a discount. Copies will also be available for purchase at the Campus Store during New Student Orientations, when you’ll have your first opportunity to talk with classmates about the text.