Channing Joseph

Journalist. Historian. Educator.

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Channing Gerard Joseph teaches at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He is also an award-winning journalist and writer whose byline has appeared around the globe.

Born in a family of New Orleans jazz musicians, and raised amid the moss-covered oaks and bayous of South Louisiana, he is a proud descendant of the enslaved people who built America and gave it soul. As a reminder of his roots, he displays a record on his bookshelf of an 1843 auction at which his 5th-great-grandfather purchased the freedom of three sons.

In recent news, Prof. Joseph is a 2020 winner of a Logan Nonfiction Fellowship and a 2019 winner of both a $40,000 Whiting Grant for Creative Nonfiction and a $72,000 Leon Levy Center for Biography Fellowship for his forthcoming biography, House of Swann: Where Slaves Became Queens.

The book is the untold story of William Dorsey Swann — a former slave who became the world’s first self-described “drag queen” and a progenitor of ballroom culture. Through the lens of Swann’s extraordinary life, House of Swann tells the forgotten history of the earliest efforts at queer resistance and liberation in America, just after the Civil War. It will be published in North America in 2021 by Crown (Penguin Random House) and in the U.K. and 79 other nations and territories by Picador (Macmillan).

In awarding Prof. Joseph a grant this year, the Whiting jury wrote: “It is impossible not to be excited about Channing Gerard Joseph’s great feat of historical research. ... This is crisp and evocative history that cuts across many different fields of inquiry in order to document a riveting story about the function and flourishing of beauty in marginalized communities. Joseph has a talent for accumulating witty, atmospheric details that together create an irresistibly immersive world. Through tireless archival work and in consultation with noted academics, ... Joseph complicates and expands our understanding of the history of LGBTQ activism and African American history.”

Prof. Joseph is also under contract with the Oscar-nominated director Lee Daniels (Best Director, Precious) and the Oscar-winning producer Bruce Cohen (Best Picture, American Beauty) to adapt Swann’s story into a major film.

In his career as a journalist, Prof. Joseph’s work has taken him from the southern tip of Africa to the mountains of rural Japan, and throughout his career, he has been the first to break news on a number of major stories, including Wikileaks’ 2007 publication of secret military documents from the war in Afghanistan.

His articles (selections of which are hyperlinked here) have been published by The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The New York Sun, Associated Press, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Entertainment Weekly, MTV News, U.S. News & World Report, ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, BET, CNN, and many others.

As a news editor, he has shaped the work of two dozen Pulitzer winners. He has served as editor-in-chief of SF Weekly as well as both a staff editor and writer at The New York Times and Associated Press. While at The Times, he edited projects that led to the release of several wrongfully convicted prisoners and helped earn the paper two Polk Awards and a Pulitzer.

In 2016, he was awarded a fellowship from the International Center for Journalists, and he has earned funding for his independent journalism from the Ford Foundation, the Scripps Howard Foundation, and the Brooks and Joan Fortune Family Foundation. In 2017, he was a finalist for the Nieman Foundation fellowship at Harvard University. In total, he has secured more than a quarter of a million dollars in competitive funding for his research and writing in the last four years.

Since 2017, Prof. Joseph has taught multimedia journalism at the University of Southern California.

He has previously taught at Oberlin College and the State University of New York–Plattsburgh, and he regularly guest-lectures at other institutions, including The New School, the University of California–Berkeley, the Academy of Art University, Oberlin College, Northwestern State University, Drew University, and Oakland’s African-American Museum and Library.

The topics of his latest talks have reflected his wide-ranging expertise in journalism and journalism education; narrative nonfiction; African-American history, literature, and genealogy; early LGBTQ history; diversity, inclusion, and access in education and the workplace; and other topics. He is represented by Alia Hanna Habib at the Gernert Literary Agency and by Michelle Weiner at the Creative Artists Agency.

He is a graduate of Oberlin College and the Columbia Journalism School. In his spare time, he enjoys sci-fi movies, roller coasters, acrobatics, and creating Afro-futurist art.

For general inquiries, feel free to reach him at



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