¡Saludos a tod@s! This week I have the pleasure to introduce you all to this month’s featured author: Marie Arana, author of our featured work, American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood! Like many of our featured authors, Marie Arana is a multi-faceted professional, balancing different platforms ranging from biographies to book reviews, and professional titles such as: “Writer at Large,” “Editor-in-Chief,” and “Senior Advisor to the Library of Congress.” It is a great pleasure to discuss and write about an individual who has done so much for the literary community and beyond, so without further ado, let me share with you some of her background.
In her own words, according to the section titled “Marie’s Story” on Arana’s website:
Marie is a Peruvian-American author of both nonfiction and fiction, senior advisor to the U.S. Librarian of Congress, director of the National Book Festival, and a Writer at Large for the Washington Post. For many years, she was editor-in-chief of the Washington Post’s literary section, Book World. She has also written for the New York Times, the National Geographic, the International Herald Tribune, Spain’s El País, and Peru’s El Comercio, among many other publications. Her biography of Simón Bolívar won the 2014 Los Angeles Times Book Prize; her memoir, American Chica, was a finalist for the National Book Award. She has also written two novels, Cellophane and Lima Nights.
Arana, born in Lima, Peru, to her Peruvian father and American mother, began her career in book publishing and has always stayed close to the publishing world in different capacities with a variety of companies and organizations. Her most recently published, Bolívar: American Liberator, draws on a wealth of primary documents and reveals the history of the South American liberator through Arana’s brilliant narrative skills. Bolívar focuses on the complicated nature of Bolívar’s childhood and upbringing, his travels as a youth, and his struggle for independence in Colombia and Venezuela. Arana investigates all aspects of his life, the good and bad, not forgiving the man’s shortcomings, but looking at his successes through the context of the complicated tensions of the times and the struggles of a liberator to be something much simpler: an honorable man. This book is such an accessible introduction to this seminal figure, we even read it recently as part of an introductory graduate course to Latin American Studies.
Meanwhile, her memoir, American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood, dissects the dualism of growing up in countries, in two cultures, with two identities. It is a beautifully crafted story which, according to her personal website, “transports us far beyond the conventional boundaries of the ethnic memoir; with great delicacy, Arana helps us understand why the marriage of the Americas is as difficult as it is inevitable.” The daughter of a civil engineer and classical violinist, Arana not only grew up exposed not only to two languages, but also to two very distinct professions: the calculated and political hard sciences and the intuitive and creative arts and humanities. All of these separate aspects of Arana’s childhood have contributed to the way she views the world, the books she reviews, and the organizations with which she works.
To me, Marie Arana is much more than an author or a book critic. She is a force in understanding the complexities of the world we all share, and I think her memoir, American Chica, is not only an attempt to understand her own childhood, but is also a larger testament to the struggle we all have: To understand where we come from to analyze how we fit in our own family structure and to grasp how we accept, understand, and potentially shift away from the ideologies and cultural practices placed upon us all as children.
It has been an honor to read both Arana’s memoir American Chica and her biography Bolívar. I have been thoroughly impressed in Arana’s narrative style, her view of the world, and the way she uses writing to enhance the lives and knowledge of her readership.
For those interested in learning more, here are some resources to explore:
Marie Arana’s website
Arana’s The Washington Post Feature Page
NY Times Book Review: Bolívar
Library of Congress Blog: Interview with Marie Arana
Photos taken from Author’s personal website.
Author Photo ©Paul Kline