During the civil rights campaigns of 1964 and 1965, Jonathan Kozol moved from the academic world into a poor black neighborhood of Boston and became a fourth grade teacher. Ever since, he has through his writing called attention to the resilience and dignity of poor children, regretted their wasted potential, and condemned their under-resourced schools. He argues for the well-being of all children, for equal educational opportunity in good public schools, and for the importance of competent and caring teaching.
Death at an Early Age, a description of his first year as a teacher, received the 1968 National Book Award in Science, Philosophy and Religion. Among his other major works are Rachel and Her Children, a study of homeless mothers and their children, which received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award in 1989, and Savage Inequalities, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992. Shame of the Nation, published in 2002, exposed conditions in nearly 60 public schools around the country, noting that inner-city children and their schools were still highly racially segregated.
Fire in the Ashes revisits the children and families about whom Kozol has written in early books. Some of the stories are stories of defeat and inability to overcome almost impossible odds. Others are accounts of resilience, determination, and creativity, of children emerging whole and full of life.
Kozol received a degree in English literature from Harvard University in 1958 and a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University.