Diana Parsell, like the subject of her book in progress, is a native of the Midwest who made Washington, D.C., her adopted home. Other parallels: a career in journalism and working for National Geographic.
The 19th-century journalist and world traveler Eliza Scidmore served as the first woman on the board of National Geographic, and she contributed to the magazine in its early years. Diana began her editorial career at National Geographic. She left to get an M.A. in journalism at the University of Missouri, and returned later as an editorial contractor for several divisions of National Geographic.
Travel offers further overlap of subject and biographer. Diana lived and worked in Jakarta in the 1990s. Over the next decade she traveled regularly to Southeast Asia as a science writer and editorial consultant. In Asia, Diana stumbled across Eliza Scidmore through a reprint of her 1897 book Java, the Garden of the East. Diana assumed “E.R. Scidmore” was a man — and was stunned to learn the author was a little-known American woman of extraordinary achievement. In 30 years of admiring Washington’s cherry trees every spring, Diana had never heard of Scidmore and how the trees were initially her idea. Thus began the quest to uncover Scidmore’s life and tell her story.
In her many years as a writer, editor, and journalist, Diana has also worked at The Washington Post, National Institutes of Health, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Chronicles of Higher Education and Philanthropy. Her freelance writing has appeared in those and a wide range of other print and online media such as Smithsonian.com, Science News, Humanities, Washingtonian, Ford Foundation Report, Trustee Quarterly, The New Physician, Indonesian Observer, Potomac Review, and National Geographic News.
Long active in the local literary community, Diana was among the writers and editors who started the online Washington Independent Review of Books. She studied creative nonfiction in John Hopkins University’s M.A. in writing program, which named her an outstanding graduate in 2007. She has had a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. A skilled speaker and presenter, Diana has led writing and editing workshops; gives public tours of the Library of Congress one Saturday a month as a volunteer docent; and lectures on her book to diverse audiences.
Diana’s honors and awards include fellowships from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and Rotary International (for a year of study in Cape Town, South Africa). She received two major awards to support work on her book: the 2012 Mayborn Fellowship in Biography, sponsored by Pulitzer Prize-winning author James McGrath Morris, and the Hazel Rowley Award from Biographers International Organization (BIO) for the best proposal for a first biography.
Diana lives with her husband, Bruce, in Falls Church, Va.
“There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.”