MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Time now to chew on a little literature as we bring you "Bookend," our regular discussion with local authors. Today we'll meet Marie Arana a literary fixture in the D.C. region. Her latest work is a biography of the Venezuelan military and political leader, Simón Bolívar. Jonathan Wilson met Arana inside the Madison Building at the Library of Congress, where she serves as a Distinguished Scholar.
MR. JONATHAN WILSON
Most people in Washington probably know you through The Washington Post book worlds. A lot may know your other work but if they don't you have written all types of books from novels, nonfiction. First of all, have you always seen yourself as just a writer in general, a book reviewer? How did things get started for you as a writer?
MS. MARIE ARANA
Well, it's a long story but I started out actually as an editor. I worked for two publishing houses, two book publishing houses in New York, Simon and Schuster and Harcourt Brace. And then I hopped the fence and went to criticism at "The Washington Post" and worked there for 17 years as the books editor.
MS. MARIE ARANA
And I'm still a writer at large at the "Post" so you'll see my pieces over there. And it's true, all my books have been very different. But I tell people, in fact, they're all part of the same building in a sense. I've been trying to build a building in which I explain to American readers who Latin Americans are, how we think, you know, how our history has been so different.
MS. MARIE ARANA
And so even the novels which are, you know, based on my family, the memoir also, which was of my childhood and now, this biography of a quintessential Latin American hero. So it all is actually of a piece even though it doesn't look that way.
In terms of your latest book, a biography of Simon Bolivar, as I was reading it I was thinking, would she have written this if she wasn't in Washington D.C. so steeped in this country's history? Would you have written the same book or written this book at all?
That's a really good question, Jonathan, and I think, in fact, you're a little right about that. You begin to think about power and how people get it and how people lose it when you live in Washington, D.C. And certainly, Bolivar's story is exactly about gaining power out of nowhere and then losing it, drastically. It's a really dramatic, adventure story and it was probably very colored by the fact that I was sitting in Washington, D.C.
I've always thought of it as something I always sort of meant to write because I had two ancestors who fought in the defining battle of Ayacucho which was the last battle in Bolivar's wars for independence. But, you know, I think, you know, I would not have been drawn to it had I not been here. I think you're absolutely right.
What does your schedule look like? Is it, do you write the same time of day? Do you write in the same place? I know we've talked before, you travel quite a bit. You like writing in different places, going to South American and writing, being the place that you're writing about. But yes, is there a particular pattern?
Well, I'm lucky to have worked at a newspaper because the sense of deadline is always there and I don't have, I can't afford to suffer the blank page syndrome. Something has got to go down. So what I do is I do my best writing when the sun goes down. I wish it weren't that way because I end up, you know, at 4:00 in the morning still writing. But that's when I'm most creative, at night, when everything's quiet and I've got, you know, a room to myself and no phones are ringing.
And then I get up the next day and I am that mean, nasty editor that I just told you about and I just, I go through what I've written the night before. When I'm writing, at first, I feel like I'm, it's disastrous. I mean, I feel like I'm not getting what I want down but I do it anyway. I put it down, you know, and it's a muddy mess. The next morning when I get up and I slap it around, it gets better.
How do you find being living in D.C. has affected you as a writer, yes, as a creative person?
Well, D.C. has this phenomenal characteristic which it changes every four years. We're looking out the window at the Capitol Building. That Capitol Building has been here it seems forever, it's a historical monument in this city but the people in it change all the time.
And you get that sense in Washington which is very sort of refreshing in a way. It is a city that is constantly redefining itself depending on who puts the people here to do it. And there's something, I think, that is actually inspiring for a writer in that sense. You're not stuck, you know, it's moving. It's a moving target all the time.
That was Bolivar author, Marie Arana, speaking with WAMU's Jonathan Wilson. Do you have a favorite local author you'd like to hear on "Bookend?" If so send us a tweet, our handle is @wamumetro or zap us an email. Our address is email@example.com.
And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jacob Fenston, Emily Berman, Jonathan Wilson, Kavitha Cardoza, Bryan Russo and Jerad Walker along with reporter Kerry Klein. WAMU's managing editor of news is Meymo Lyons. "Metro Connection's" managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Eva Harder. Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.
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We hope you can join us next week when we'll present a show for all you newbie's out there. We're calling it "Rookies." We'll meet a first time musician with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and we'll hit the field with members of D.C. new professional tackle football team, four women.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1
I've had more injuries dancing professionally than I have playing football.
I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 news.
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