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Author Spotlight: Getting Real with Maureen Dowd

Festival Staff / February 20, 2017

Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has been in the thick of political reporting and commentary since 1984. She’s covered nine presidential campaigns, covered the White House and has been an Op-Ed columnist since 1995.

Dowd’s three books are New York Times bestsellers. Bushworld is a collection of Dowd’s columns that provides a look at George W. Bush. Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide examines sexual politics. Her latest book, The Year of Voting Dangerously, is a collection of her columns about Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump.

She took a quick break after covering the Presidential Inauguration to answer questions for the Tucson Festival of Books.

What was your first reaction when the election was over and you realized you'll be writing a lot more about Donald Trump?

New York Times readers keep asking me if this is surreal and I tell them yes. It’s the most surreal thing I've ever seen and I've seen a lot of surreal things.

It is particularly surreal if you watch the reruns of “Celebrity Apprentice” on CNBC and see Omarosa having a hissy fit at Piers Morgan with Donald Trump, Ivanka and Donald Jr. in the boardroom, then the next day you see Omarosa at the first White House press briefing and you see Donald Trump in the Oval Office surrounded by CEOs and Ivanka's husband, Jared Kushner.

This is the first election where reality TV, social media and politics fused and it's going to take a while to get used to that.

What insights do you hope readers get from your new book, The Year of Voting Dangerously?

I've been covering Donald Trump since the late '80s and have interviewed him numerous times. In many ways, he hasn't changed at all, since the time we took his gilt-laden Trump jet and went on a trip to Miami to test the waters for a 2000 run. When I asked him why on earth people would vote for him for president, he replied that he would get votes because he got big ratings on Larry King and because a lot of men hit on his fiance, the beautiful model Melania Knauss.

I think my interviews in the book provide a great road map for why Trump won, what he's like and how he'll govern. There isn't going to be any pivot. Ever.

How do you handle criticism of and controversy surrounding your writing? What advice would you give writers about that?

The job of an editorial columnist is very much like the job of a political cartoonist. We're supposed to “stir up the beast,”' as the brilliant cartoonist Pat Oliphant once put it. I don't write an ideological column coming from the left or the right, so Times readers sometimes get upset with me about that. But I was a political reporter for 20 years before I was a columnist and I try to do it more like a reporter at the royal court, showing how politicians either rise to the occasion or fall, tripped up by arrogance or that special sort of blindness that great power brings. Working in the White House, says a friend of mine who was a top aide to President Obama, is like being in a submarine. Sometimes it's hard to see what is so apparent to everyone on the outside. The echo chamber and the sycophancy is too noisy.

I like the advice that J.D. Salinger gave to Joyce Maynard, a young writer who was his lover. He told her not to pay attention to the criticism or the applause because both could be equally warping to her work.

What does the day-to-day business of being a writer, both of the columns and the books, actually look like for you?

Sheer terror. Writing an opinion column is very hard for me. I'm not good at polemics or rants. If I could, I'd just be a humor writer, but given the recent cascade of calamities in our presidencies, it's hard to be funny.

So usually I write out of fear, when I'm afraid that there will be a blank space in the paper the next day. In the old days, when there were still delivery trucks, I used to have to wait until I heard their engines revving up to jar me into writing.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Surprise me. I hate the herd mentality, which has gotten worse with the internet. And read. When you read a lot of history and novels, it bleeds through your prose and makes it a richer tapestry.

Dowd is a Washington D.C. native and received a Pulitzer Prize in commentary in 1999 for her columns on President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. She has written for many other publications, including GQ, Rolling Stoneand Sports Illustrated.

Find Maureen Dowd at the Festival:Politics: The 2016 Electionon Saturday, March 11; and Freedom of the Press on Sunday, March 12. She will be available for signing and books will be available for purchase after each event. She will also be doing a signing at the Mostly Books tent.

Elena Acoba is a Tucson writer and editor who helps companies and organizations tell their stories and craft their messages. She also writes feature stories on assignment, including for the Arizona Daily Star and the Arizona Office of Tourism. Acoba has participated in the Tucson Festival of Books as a panelist and by writing author profiles for the Tucson Festival of Books website.

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