Diana Pabst Parsell is a former journalist and science writer who has just written her first book. Due in March 2023 from Oxford University Press, it chronicles the life of the 19th-century world traveler and author Eliza Scidmore, whose vision and tenacity gave Washington, D.C., its now-famous Japanese cherry trees.
Like Scidmore, Parsell is a native of the Midwest who made Washington her adopted home. Other parallels include working for National Geographic and extensive travel in Southeast Asia.
Parsell’s byline has appeared in a wide range of publications. She started her career at National Geographic, before leaving to attend graduate school, and later worked as a contract writer for several divisions. She has also been a copy editor at The Washington Post and The Chronicle of Higher Education, and a writer-editor at the National Institutes of Health, American Association for the Advancement of Science and environmental research centers in Southeast Asia. She got the idea for her book in Indonesia, after discovering Scidmore’s 1897 travelogue Java, the Garden of the East.
A graduate of Marietta College in Ohio, Parsell has master’s degrees from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and Johns Hopkins University. In support of her upcoming book she received a Mayborn Fellowship in Biography and Biographers International Organization’s Hazel Rowley Prize, given for the best proposal for a first biography. Her previous awards include fellowships from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and Rotary International (for a period of study in Cape Town), and a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
Parsell has lectured on Scidmore and D.C.’s cherry trees to diverse audiences. Before the covid-19 pandemic she gave public tours of the Library of Congress, where she did much of the research for her book. She lives with her husband, Bruce, in Falls Church, VA.
“There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.”