Picture of writer Diana Parsell

Photo by Suz Redfearn

Diana (Pabst) Parsell is a nonfiction writer, editor and journalist now working on the first complete biography of the 19th-century American journalist and travel writer Eliza Scidmore. Like the subject of her book, Diana hailed from the Midwest and made Washington, D.C., her adopted home.

Other parallels: working for National Geographic and extensive travel in Southeast Asia. Diana began her editorial career working for the magazine’s famed art director Howard Paine, until leaving to get a graduate degree at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She later worked on contract for several divisions of National Geographic — writing science stories for the website, content for three editions of National Geographic Traveler: Washington, D.C., and all legends for major maps of New York City and the Holy Land.

Diana has also worked as a copy editor for The Washington Post; a writer  for the National Institutes of Health and American Association for the Advancement of Science; and a freelancer for many nonprofits and other  clients. Her writing has been published in print or online by Smithsonian, National Geographic, Humanities, Science News, Ford Foundation Report, Washingtonian, Trustee Quarterly,  Washington Independent Review of Books and many others. (See publication samples.)

After living in Jakarta for two years in the late 1990s, Diana traveled regularly to Southeast Asia for a decade as a writer and editorial consultant for two World Bank-supported research centers. She stumbled onto the subject of her book through Eliza Scidmore’s 1897 travelogue Java, the Garden of the East. 

Diana has received two major awards to support work on her book: the 2012 Mayborn Fellowship in Biography, sponsored by the prize-winning biographer James McGrath Morris and his wife, Patty, and in 2017 the Hazel Rowley Prize from Biographers International Organization. She has also had fellowships from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and Rotary International and a residency at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. Johns Hopkins University named her an outstanding (nonfiction) graduate of its Master of Arts in Writing program in 2007.

A skilled speaker, Diana lectures on her book to diverse audiences and gives monthly tours at the Library of Congress as a volunteer docent.

She lives with her husband, Bruce, in Falls Church, Va.


“There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.”