Maryn McKenna is a journalist and author specializing in public health, global health, and food policy, and a Senior Fellow of the Center for the Study of Human Health at Emory University, where she teaches health and science writing and storytelling. She is the recipient of the 2023 Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting, a career award, and the 2019 AAAS-Kavli Gold Award for magazine writing for her piece "The Plague Years" in The New Republic. She is the author of the 2017 bestseller Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats (National Geographic Books, Sept. 2017), which received the 2018 Science in Society Award, making her a two-time winner of that prize. Big Chicken was named a Best Book of 2017 by Amazon, Science News, Smithsonian Magazine, Civil Eats, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Toronto Globe and Mail; an Essential Science Read by WIRED; and a 2018 Book All Georgians Should Read. Her 2015 TED Talk, "What do we do when antibiotics don't work any more?", has been viewed 1.9 million times and translated into 34 languages.
From 2020 to 2023 Maryn was a contributor and then senior writer at WIRED, where during the Covid pandemic she wrote about the last mile of vaccine distribution, the search for the virus's origins, the ignored warnings that PPE would run out, the touchy politics of vaccine passports, and more than 100 other stories. In May 2020 she created a massive open online course, "Journalism in a Pandemic: Covering Covid-19 now and in the future," for the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas, supported by the Knight Foundation, United Nations Development Program, UNESCO, and the World Health Organization, that was taken by almost 9,000 journalists from 160 countries. In March 2021, she and the Knight Center repeated that effort with a second 4,000-student MOOC, "Covering the Covid Vaccines: What do journalists need to know?". She also has appeared on numerous podcasts and webinars and in the Netflix + Vox Media documentaries "The Next Pandemic: Explained" and "Coronavirus: Explained."
She has reported from epidemics and disasters, and farms and food production sites, on most of the continents, including a field hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, a Thai village erased by the Indian Ocean tsunami, a bird-testing unit on the front lines of West Nile virus, an Arctic graveyard of the victims of the 1918 flu, an AIDS treatment center in Yunnan, a polio-eradication team in India, breweries in France, a “Matrix for chickens” in the Netherlands, and Midwestern farms devastated by the 2015 epidemic of avian flu. She has written for The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, Smithsonian, The Atlantic, NPR, Newsweek, Scientific American, Nature, The Guardian, Eating Well, Eater, and numerous other magazines and sites. Her work has been anthologized in The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2023), The Best Science Writing Online (2012) and The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2014), twice in The Dirt: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Food and Farming (2016 and 2018), and also in the UK anthology Weapons of Reason (2020). She is the creator of the site Today in Ebolanoia, which has been cited in medical and biodefense literature for documenting public overreaction to disease threats, and her work has also appeared in the Annals of Emergency Medicine and the Bulletin of the History of Medicine.
She also has received the 2019 John P. McGovern Award for Excellence in Biomedical Communication, the 2014 Leadership Award from the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, and the 2013 Byron H. Waksman Award for Excellence in the Public Communication of Life Sciences. Her piece for Modern Farmer on the beyond-organic farm White Oak Pastures received a first-place award from the Association of Food Journalists, and her essay for the Food and Environment Reporting Network, "Imagining the Post-Antibiotics Future," was a finalist for a James Beard Foundation Media Award and has been republished in Russian, Norwegian and French. She also shared the 2015 AH Boerma Award from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as one of the writers for National Geographic’s food-writing site The Plate, part of the magazine’s year-long Future of Food project.
She appears in the 2019 documentary Resistance Fighters, which received the Grand Prix at the Pariscience Science Film Festival and the Impact Award from the Vancouver International Film Fest, and the 2014 documentary Resistance. She has presented at the United Nations, U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control about the need to curb antibiotic misuse in medicine and agriculture, and is a frequent public speaker and radio, TV and podcast guest, including on Radiolab, Gastropod, the Story Collider, Science for the People, and Brains On. From 2012 to 2019, she was a Senior Fellow of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University. In 2018, she was a TEDxYouth speaker in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and in 2014, she was one of the organizers of the Women in Science Writing Solutions Summit, held at MIT. She currently is the Journalism Advisor to the Logan Science Journalism Program at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, and has been a member of the program committee for the 2019 World Conference of Science Journalists in Lausanne and a six-term member of the board of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
Her earlier books are Superbug (Free Press/Simon & Schuster 2010), on the international epidemic of drug-resistant staph in hospitals, families and farms, which won the 2013 June Roth Memorial Book Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the 2011 Science in Society Award given by the National Association of Science Writers; and Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (Free Press/S&S 2004), the first history of the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, for which she embedded with the corps for a year. Beating Back the Devil was named one of the Top Science Books of 2004 by Amazon and an Outstanding Academic Title by the American Library Association.
As a newspaper reporter, she worked for 10 years at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she was the only US journalist assigned to full-time coverage of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She reported from the Indian Ocean tsunami and from Hurricane Katrina, as well as from Southeast Asia, India, Africa and the Arctic, and embedded with CDC teams on Capitol Hill during the 2001 anthrax attacks and with a World Health Organization polio-eradication team in India.
Previously, she worked for the Boston Herald, where stories she co-wrote on illnesses among veterans of the first Persian Gulf War led to the first Congressional hearings on Gulf War Syndrome, and at the Cincinnati Enquirer, where her stories on the association between local cancer clusters and contamination escaping a federal nuclear weapons plant contributed to a successful nuclear-harm lawsuit by residents. She was also previously a staff member at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy of the University of Minnesota.
In 2013-14, she was the inaugural Project Fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT. She also has been an Ochberg Fellow of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University; a Media Fellow with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation; and a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan. She has also served short fellowships at Harvard Medical School and the Casey Journalism Center on Children and Families at the University of Maryland. In 2006, she was an inaugural Health Journalism Fellow of the East-West Center in Honolulu and subsequently taught other journalists in its programs in Asia. She has been a journalist in residence at the University of Florida, University of Wisconsin, and Texas A&M University, adjunct faculty at the University of Georgia, and faculty at the Santa Fe Science Writing Seminar. In 2018, she was a Poynter Journalism Fellow at Yale.
She is a cum laude graduate of Georgetown University, has a master’s degree with highest honors from Northwestern University, and is the recipient of numerous journalism awards.