For nearly four decades, TOM GJELTEN was a correspondent for NPR News. He retired from the network in 2021, after reporting on national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world. He joined NPR in 1982, assigned to the labor and education beat. In 1986, Gjelten became one of NPR’s pioneer foreign correspondents, posted first in Latin America and then in Central Europe. In the years that followed, he covered the wars in Central America, social and political strife in South America, the first Gulf War, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and the transitions to democracy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
His reporting from Sarajevo from 1992 to 1994 was the basis for his book Sarajevo Daily: A City and Its Newspaper Under Siege (HarperCollins), praised by the New York Times as “a chilling portrayal of a city’s slow murder.” He is also the author of Professionalism in War Reporting: A Correspondent’s View (Carnegie Corporation) and a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know (W. W. Norton).
After returning from his overseas assignments, Gjelten covered U.S. diplomacy and military affairs, first from the State Department and then from the Pentagon. He was reporting live from the Pentagon at the moment it was hit on September 11, 2001, and he was NPR’s lead Pentagon reporter during the early war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. Gjelten has also reported extensively from Cuba in recent years. His 2008 book, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause (Viking), is a unique history of modern Cuba, told through the life and times of the Bacardi rum family. The New York Times selected it as a “Notable Nonfiction Book,” and the Washington Post, Kansas City Star, and San Francisco Chronicle all listed it among their “Best Books of 2008.” His latest book, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (Simon & Schuster), recounts the impact on America of the 1965 Immigration Act, which officially opened the country’s doors to immigrants of color. In his final assignment, Gjelten was NPR’s religion and belief correspondent, reporting on such issues as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and social and cultural conflict arising from religious differences.
During his years at NPR, Gjelten was honored with two Overseas Press Club Awards, a George Polk Award, a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, and a National Headliner Award. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, he began his professional career as a public school teacher and freelance writer.