Since 2008, Jay Tolson has been the News Director of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague, Czech Republic. In addition to running the Radio’s central newsroom, which provides news, analysis and commentary for all of the radio’s 22 broadcast services and for the English-language website, Tolson oversees the production and coordination of news across the entire organization.
From 1999 to 2008, Tolson was a senior writer at U. S. News & World Report, concentrating on culture, politics, society, and religion. In cover stories, section leads, and shorter pieces, he wrote on social issues, foreign affairs, scholarly debates, all areas of culture and the arts, education, social policy, and new thinking about a wide range of historical and contemporary topics, from the world in the year 1000 to the Founding Fathers to the emergence of Las Vegas as America's "first city of the 21st century" to debates over George Bush's foreign policy since 9/11. His many cover stories--including a recent one on the scientific study of human consciousness and its implications for ideas of the self, the soul, and human identity--have been sales leaders at the newsstands. He has also contributed articles and essays to the newsmagazine's many special issues and guides.
From 1989 until 1999, Tolson was editor of the Wilson Quarterly, a journal of ideas addressed to a general readership (circulation: approximately 65,000). Published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the quarterly reflected the broad interests of that institution. In essays, clusters of articles, reviews, and summaries of important work from specialized periodicals, the WQ kept readers abreast of new developments in virtually all areas of intellectual endeavor. In keeping with the center's mandate, the journal sought to relate ideas to public life, giving equal emphasis to domestic and international affairs. In addition to editing the magazine (and writing large parts of it), Tolson was also a key staff member of the Woodrow Wilson Center with roles in several leadership arenas, including fund-raising and organizing events.
Tolson is the author of Pilgrim in the Ruins: A Life of Walker Percy (Simon & Schuster, 1992). He is the editor of The Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy (Norton, 1996). For Pilgrim in the Ruins, he won both the Southern Book Award (judged by critics of the Southern Book Association) and the Hugh Holman Prize for Outstanding Scholarship in Southern Literary Studies.
From 1981 to 1989, he served as literary editor of the Wilson Quarterly , charged with editing and writing book reviews and major stories as well as writing for other sections of the magazine.
A former member of the National Book Critics' Circle, Tolson was a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship grantee in 1990 and recipient of a Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowship in Science and Religion in 2006.
In his early career, from 1977 to 1981, Tolson was a free-lance writer of articles, reviews, and profiles. Among publications he contributed to (then and subsequently): The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, (London) Times Literary Supplement , The Nation, The New Republic, The Sciences, Civilization, DoubleTake, International Economy, International Herald Tribune, The National Review, and The American Scholar. He continues to write for these and many other publications. From 1972 to 1977, he taught history and English at high schools in North Carolina and the Washington, D. C. area.
Tolson received an A. B. in history from Princeton University in 1972; an M. A. in literature from American University in 1977.
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