Shirley Christian

2016 Reasons to Believe Alumni Honor Roll

Shirley Christian Portrait

Rosedale Junior/Senior High School, 1956

Other Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools Attended: Snow Elementary

Shirley Christian was born in tiny Pettis County, Missouri, and went to Rosedale Junior/Senior High School, the smallest high school in Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools. From those humble beginnings, she has forged a career and a life that has taken her across the globe, and to the pinnacle of career success.

The first female Associated Press (AP) reporter sent overseas, Christian spent her career as a journalist covering Latin America as a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press, New York Times and Miami Herald. Her coverage of the wars in Central America won her the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 1981, the third woman ever to win that honor.

She is the author of two books, including one focused on Central America: Nicaragua: Revolution in the Family. Her most recent book, Before Lewis and Clark: The Story of the Chouteaus, the French Dynasty that Ruled America’s Frontier, was published in April 2004.

In addition to working as a foreign correspondent and writing books, Christian has written articles for The Atlantic MonthlyThe New RepublicThe New York Times Sunday Magazine, and numerous other publications. She has also taught journalism at Columbia University and the University of Kansas.

Christian remembers being inspired by Phillip Keeler, her high school English and journalism teacher at Rosedale. She worked on the school paper, and says that Mr. Keeler held his students to extremely high standards. “If you misspelled a word, he took ten points off,” she recalls. “If you misspelled a name, it was worse!”

Christian is grateful for the chance she received to work as a reporter at the Kansas City, Kansan, at a time when few jobs were open to female reporters. After she left the Kansan, she spent five months living and traveling in Eastern Europe, and the feeling of wanderlust has been with her ever since. Ultimately, though, family brought her back to Kansas City, where she worked for five years with Jim Stowers on the founding of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, serving as a senior writer.

Her advice for today’s students: “Travel if you can. It opens up your mind, and gives you a global perspective. Having more people who speak different languages would really help us as a nation.”