Howard W. French received his B.A. in political science from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. He worked as a French-English translator in Abidjan, Ivory Coast in the early 1980s, and taught English literature for several years at the University of Abidjan. His career in journalism began as a freelance reporter for The Washington Post and other publications in West Africa. He joined The New York Times in 1986, and worked as a metropolitan reporter with the newspaper for three years, and then from 1990 to 2008 reported overseas for The Times as bureau chief for Central America and the Caribbean, West and Central Africa, Japan and the Koreas, and China, based in Shanghai. During this time, his coverage was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; he was twice the recipient of an Overseas Press Club Award, and his work received numerous other awards.
From 2005 to 2008, alongside his correspondence for The Times, French was a weekly columnist on global affairs for the International Herald Tribune. He is the author of “China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa,” published by Knopf in May 2014. China's Second Continent was named one of 100 Notable Books of 2014 by The New York Times, and was cited by The Economist, The Guardian and Foreign Affairs and several other publications as one of the best books of 2014.
He is the author of "A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa" (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), which was named non-fiction book of the year by several newspapers.
His book of documentary photography, “Disappearing Shanghai: Photographs and Poems of an Intimate Way of Life,” was published in 2012 (Homa and Sekey). It was produced in collaboration with the Chinese poet and novelist, Qiu Xiaolong. The photography from this project has figured in solo and group exhibitions on three continents.
He has recently completed work on a new non-fiction book for Knopf about the history of Chinese power and the geopolitics of East Asia titled “Everything Under the Heavens: Empire, Tribute and the Future of Chinese Power,” which is slated for publication in late 2016.
French is the President of the board of directors of the IRIN News Agency. He was a 2011-12 fellow of the Open Society Foundations. Other awards include an honorary doctorate from the University of Maryland, and the 2016 Columbia Journalism School Professor of the Year Award.