Marie Arana was born in Lima, Peru and raised bilingually by a Peruvian father and an American mother. She emigrated to New Jersey at the age of 9. A prize-winning author and editor, she is currently Literary Director of the Library of Congress. For many years, she was Writer at Large for The Washington Post and Editor in Chief of The Post’s book review section, Book World. In 2020, she was conferred an award for literary achievement by the American Academy of Arts & Letters.
Arana completed a BA in Russian Language and Literature at Northwestern University, a MA in Linguistics and Sociolinguistics at Hong Kong University, and a MA equivalent (Mandarin language) at Yale University in China. She began her career in book publishing, where she was Vice President and Senior Editor at both Harcourt Brace and Simon & Schuster publishers in New York. In 1993, she started work at The Washington Post as Deputy Editor of Book World. She was promoted to Editor in Chief, a position she held for 10 years. In 2009, she was named Northwestern University’s Alumna of the Year. Since 2010, she has sat on the Scholars Circle of the Library of Congress’s John W. Kluge Center. In 2013, she became a Senior Consultant on books and Hispanicity to the U.S. Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington. In 2016, she was named the Kluge Center’s Chair of the Cultures of the Countries of the South.
She is the author of “American Chica,” a memoir about growing up in two languages and cultures, which was a finalist for the National Book Award as well as the PEN/Memoir Award. She is the author of two novels: “Cellophane,” a finalist for the John Sargent Prize, and “Lima Nights,” which Peru’s El Comercio named one of the five best novels of the year produced by writers of Latin American heritage. Her book, “The Writing Life: How Writers Think and Work,” is a staple in creative writing courses around the country. She has written introductions for books on Latin America, Hispanicity and biculturalism. She is the scriptwriter for the South American portion of “Girl Rising,” a full-length feature film about the importance of educating girls, which was released in March, 2013. Her biography of Simón Bolívar, “Bolívar: American Liberator,” won the Los Angeles Book Prize in 2014. Her most recent book, “Silver, Sword, and Stone: Three Crucibles in the Latin American Story,” was named the best nonfiction book of the year (2019) by the American Library Association (Booklist).
Arana has served as chairman of Pulitzer Prize juries as well as National Book Award juries, both in fiction and nonfiction. She has been on the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle as well as the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and she has been a board member of the young people’s writing initiative 826-DC, the Virginia Quarterly Review, and the American Writers Museum. She is currently the vice president of the Literary Society of Washington. For many years, she has directed the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival as well as festivals celebrating international literature at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Her commentary has been published in The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, The International Herald Tribune, The Week, Civilization, Smithsonian magazine, The National Geographic, the Virginia Quarterly Review, El Comercio, El País, and numerous other publications throughout the world.