When Ballston resident and Associated Press reporter Darlene Superville volunteered to cover then-First Lady Michelle Obama, she knew it would generate a lot of stories.
“I took it upon myself to be the primary person on my team to cover her,” she said. “She was the rage of the country. Everything she did was interesting. If she sneezed, people wanted to know.”
Little did she know that first ladies would become her beat and eventually land her a deal to co-author a book about Jill Biden.
A Ballston resident since 1994, Superville kicked off her reporting on Michelle Obama when her husband Barack Obama was inaugurated, and has since covered Melania Trump and Jill Biden. She had previously covered Laura Bush when her colleagues needed extra help.
She talked with ARLnow about the enduring interest Americans have in the wives of presidents and “Jill: A Biography of the First Lady,” a book she co-wrote with AP Executive Editor Julie Pace, with additional research done by Evelyn Duffy. The book came out last April.
“For a long time, I think the American public has been fascinated with First Ladies,” Superville said. “Even though they’re not elected, they do represent the country… There’s always a fascination with what they wear, what they do, the causes they support, the trips they take, that kind of thing. I don’t want to compare it to British royalty, but it’s on the same level.”
When Michelle Obama was First Lady, Superville said, everything she wore that was off-the-rack would sell out within hours of a public appearance.
“People want to see them with their kids if they have young children,” she said. “They’re interested in how they’re raising them, ‘Are they a good mother?’ All those sorts of questions.”
People also want to know about the wives of presidents with whom they disagree, she says.
“For example, in the case of George W. Bush and Laura, people who might not have cared for him might have wondered, ‘What does she see in that guy?'” she said. “Same with Melania and Trump.”
But Jill Biden, who sat down with Pace and Superville for three one-hour interviews, holds the interest of some Americans for different reasons.
She is the oldest woman to become First Lady, assuming the role at 69. She is the first First Lady to hold a paying job outside the White House and is relatable, Superville says. She adds that women who read the book would be interested in understanding how Jill — “one of the more active ladies in recent history” — does it all.
“She is a mother, wife, a grandmother. She’s a working woman,” Superville says. “She went through a brief skin cancer scare. Many people have gone through that as well. She lost a son to cancer in 2015. There are many people who have lost loved ones to cancer, children or other relatives.” Read More
Fairlington author Amina Luqman-Dawson has received two awards for her novel, “Freewater.”
The middle-grade book about a secret community of formerly enslaved people living in the wilderness received both the John Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Book Award from the American Library Association. The awards were announced yesterday (Monday).
“I think I cried, and then I screamed, and then I cried,” Luqman-Dawson tells ARLnow. “It was pretty bad for people on the phone. I was honored — absolutely completely honored and overjoyed… I can’t even put it into words and that’s what I do for a living.”
Luqman-Dawson is the first Black woman to win both the John Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award, per a press release from Arlington Public Library. The Newbery Medal is to the author of “the most distinguished contributions to American literature for children,” while the Coretta Scott King Book Award recognizes an African American author and illustrator of “outstanding books for children and young adults,” the release said.
“We are beyond happy for Amina Luqman-Dawson and her extraordinary achievement. ‘Freewater’ is an important story and deserves to be read by every middle school student,” said Library Director Diane Kresh in a statement. “On the eve of Black History Month, congratulations to our talented Arlington author. Thank you for sharing your voice.”
“Freewater” is a work of historical fiction is based on the history of Maroons: African Americans who escaped slavery and formed their own settlements in the wilderness, in seemingly uninhabitable locations like the Great Dismal Swamp in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.
“Maroons… found ways to live free, clandestine lives in the wilderness,” Luqman-Dawson said. “[The book] uses fiction to connect with those who were enslaved in the past — people who’ve found ways to resist and live lives full of complexity, joy and hardship in the midst of extraordinarily difficult times.”
“We have a history of avoiding, feeling awkward about and fearful of the history of enslavement,” she continued. “‘Freewater’ is a tool, a means — in a sort of thrilling, adventurous, fun, joyful way — to connect with this history. Hopefully, one that teachers and parents can use and kids can love.”
Luqman-Dawson said the idea for the book came to her almost 20 years ago, inspired by an anecdote she heard in a Latin American studies class.
“I tell kids, ‘I know your teachers can be annoying, but listen to them — you never know when a teacher can change your life,'” she said.
After writing a few chapters, “life happened,” and she only picked up the project a decade later, after becoming a mother and wanting to share the history with her son. He is now a Wakefield High School student and she is a member of the advocacy group Black Parents of Arlington.
One one of her biggest influences is Mildred Taylor, a Newbery Award-winning American young adult novelist best known for “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.”
She says children’s literature can broach difficult topics in an engaging, but not sanitized, way.
“It allows you to hear voices — children’s voices — that are frank, honest, naive and wise, all in the midst of what an adult would recognize as perilous times,” she said. “[Children] don’t necessarily live in that space. It’s a safe space for us all to be there and hear them.”
As a waiter at some of the region’s glitzy, famous, and most expensive restaurants, Ballston resident Isa Seyran has seen it all.
Tense political negotiations. Joyous family reunions. Power brokers holding court. Elaborate marriage proposals. A first lady having a great night out.
And now, after more than two decades, Seyran is telling his story about serving others in his new book “Waiter: Reflections and Memories, A Brief History of Washington D.C’s World-Class Dining Scene.”
“Call me crazy. Call me romantic,” Seyran told ARLnow. “But I think there’s something sacred about feeding people.”
Seyran made his way to this country and Arlington 22 years ago. He grew up in a small village in Turkey, always interested in “literature, language, and poetry.” While he says he could have had a fine life there in a “diplomatic career,” Seyran knew that wasn’t for him.
“I wanted to be free. So, I escaped with a one-way ticket and $300,” he said.
And that’s how he landed in the Ballston neighborhood, where he has lived since moving to the U.S.
He calls himself a true “Ballstonian,” throwing out memories like how there used to be a Shell gas station where he washed his car at the spot where The Salt Line is now.
Seyran began working in restaurants, using his charisma, love of people, “genuine smile,” and ability to learn quickly to earn a place working as a waiter, bartender, host, and manager at some of the region’s most well-known eateries.
That includes Zaytinya, Rasika, Bombay Club, Galileo, Fiola Mare, Faccia Luna, and Ballston’s The Salt Line, where he works as a waiter today.
By his estimate, he’s served nearly a half million diners in his career.
Besides working at restaurants, he’s also found time for his “hobby” as an author, playwright, and filmmaker. In 2015, a play he wrote was part of the Capital Fringe festival. Then, in 2019, Seyran’s short film about working in the local restaurant industry was chosen to be part of an Amazon-sponsored film festival.
The new book is an all-encompassing look into his life over the past two decades filled with stories, experiences, and memories.
The point of the book, he said, is not to be “salacious or malicious” about the industry he has worked in, but to provide an “honest account” of what restaurant workers experience on an everyday basis.
“There are people who are the unseen heroes of our industry, the busboys, the managers, and the dishwashers I work with. I thought it would be a nice tribute…writing their stories,” Seyran explained.
That being said, there are a number of anecdotes in the book that may create some good old-fashioned D.C. buzz.
There’s the one about former First Lady Michelle Obama being a “camper.”
Michelle Obama had the night of her life with two of her female friends at Rasika, drinking martinis first, then a bottle of wine, eating a sumptuous meal with appetizer, main course, dessert, masala chai and the whole nine yards. But when her security detail did not eat or drink anything, I lost between seventy and a hundred dollars in the first seating.
Like that was not enough of a loss, Ms. Obama turned out to be what we call in the industry “camper,” a guest who overstayed their welcome, which cost me another hundred dollars in the second seating.
Or how he once got bribed to give up a famed Washington Post restaurant critic’s identity.
Christmas and Hanukkah are nearly here, which is undoubtedly provoking panic among last-minute shoppers.
Luckily, ARLnow has an Arlington-centric holiday gift guide for all those who looking for the perfect present for the the gondola fans and local literature enthusiasts in you life.
Below are eight great, last-minute Arlington-related gifts.
After 26 years, the Silver Diner in Clarendon is now closed with the new Ballston location opening this past week. Now, a number of items from that restaurant are up for auction.
Money helps supports the local non-profit Real Food for Kids. The auction ends next week, on Dec. 22.
This summer, local elected officials again introduced joint legislation to remove Robert E. Lee’s name from the historic home at Arlington National Cemetery. While the bills stalled, it was actually George Washington Parke Custis who had the house built to honor George Washington.
This definitive biography by local author Charlie Clark provides the first-of-a-kind look into the life of George Washington Parke Custis and the history of Arlington’s first family.
With word coming that a new indoor dog park and bar may be replacing Green Valley’s New District Brewing, now is the time to stuff those stockings with beer.
Four packs of beer, including the National Landing IPA and Potomac Paddleboarder Blonde Ale, are available in the taproom whenever the brewery is open. All the beer is now packaged at their facility with its crowd-funded canning line.
Help that little Arlingtonian in your life to learn local history with this book written by community leader Wilma Jones.
It tells the story of a third grader in 1955 who visits the Halls Hill fire station. For decades, Fire Station 8 was the only one in Arlington that was staffed by African-Americans.
The original station was demolished in June with a new station now in the midst of construction. It’s expected to be completed sometime late next year.
Pickleball has taken Arlington by storm, even as the pickleball pop has driven some locals mad.
The county is providing a chance to get in on the craze by offering pickleball classes for all ages. The classes begin in February and continue through April, but can be purchased now.
But be careful about where you play so the county doesn’t get sued.
Demolition day may be looming for the building that once housed legendary Inner Ear Studios, but the recording studio still lives in Don Zientara’s Arlington basement. Some have called it “the Abbey Road of Arlington.”
A t-shirt with the original Inner Ear logo is available from ARLnow on Amazon.
Ballston resident Isa Seyran serves up dishy stories in his new book detailing working in the local restaurant scene.
The subject of a recent ARLnow Press Club feature, Seyran shares a number of anecdotes in the book about working for some of the most famous chefs in the D.C. area.
Sure, it’s actually Arlington, Texas that’s getting an XFL team, and not Arlington, Virginia, but that didn’t dissuade us from asking readers on social media what they would have named the football team.
One answer stood out:
The Arlington Gondoliers
ARLnow designed a logo and put it on a bunch of swag so everyone can support the local team that never was.
- Bonus: Items from a local holiday market
If you are still in need of more last-minute gifts, the Forever Grateful Market in Crystal City is happening this weekend.
The Barnes & Noble store in Clarendon was the scene of an alleged armed robbery today.
Police responded around noon to the bookstore at 2800 Clarendon Blvd, in The Crossing Clarendon shopping center, after a caller reported a crime that happened earlier that morning.
“At approximately 12:06 p.m. on September 29, police were dispatched to the late report of an armed robbery inside a business,” Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage tells ARLnow. “Upon arrival, it was determined that at approximately 10:50 a.m., the unknown male suspect began to conceal merchandise inside a bag. When employees confronted the suspect, he displayed a pocket knife before exiting the business with the stolen merchandise.”
“No injuries were reported,” Savage added. “The suspect is described as a Black male in his 40’s or 50’s, 5’10” tall, 240lbs with black hair. He was wearing a cream colored sweater, tan khaki pants, brown boots and black rimmed glasses. The investigation is ongoing.”
Photo via Google Maps
(Updated at 10:50 a.m.) Arlington Public Library is hosting Pulitzer Prize-winning “1619 Project” author Nikole Hannah-Jones as part of “Banned Books Week” next month.
The journalist and Howard University faculty member who led the 2019 New York Times project will talk about her book and “the freedom to read.” The event is set to take place on Tuesday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. in the Washington-Liberty High School auditorium.
“While this event is taking place at Washington-Liberty High School, Arlington Public Schools is not involved in the planning or hosting of this event,” notes the event page on the library website.
The event is “first-come, first-served until capacity is reached,” the page also notes. For those who can’t attend in person, the event will be live-streamed.
The “1619 Project” is an effort to better explain and contextualize slavery’s legacy, as well as Black Americans’ contributions, within the center of America’s history. It’s named as such after the date that the first enslaved African peoples arrived in Virginia.
The event at W-L is part of the nationwide “Banned Books Week,” an annual celebration by libraries and bookstores that highlights the value of “free and open access to information.”
The county’s library director Diane Kresh explained in a 2017 blog post that the reason Arlington Public Libraries celebrates Banned Books Week is that books are expressions of freedom.
“Books are change agents. They challenge our beliefs and biases. They expose us to different experiences and cultures. They help us learn to think for ourselves and not follow the crowd or cult of public opinion,” Kresh wrote.
The lecture is also part of the larger “Arlington Reads” event series.
The “1619 Project” has been both celebrated for its groundbreaking exploration of the topic and criticized for what some say are a series of historical inaccuracies and an emphasis on the significance of enslaved peoples in America’s history over other well-known dates, people, and events. It also sparked political controversy, with conservative members of Congress calling for measures to prevent it from being taught in K-12 schools.
President Joe Biden has nominated Arlington resident Dr. Colleen Shogan to be the Archivist of the United States.
In normal times, the Archivist nomination does not make national news headlines. But now, Shohan is reportedly facing pushing back on Capitol Hill by some Republicans upset with the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida home.
The long-time local resident appears to be uniquely qualified for the role of Archivist, whose job is to serve as the “nation’s record keeper” and manage the National Archives.
Shogan is currently a director at the White House Historical Association, an instructor at Georgetown University, and was formerly a deputy director at the Library of Congress. Additionally, she is the board chair of the organization charged with building a national monument to women’s suffrage.
Shogan, a Yale Ph.D., is also the first woman nominated as the permanent Archivist of the United States.
However, in recent days, it seems her path to confirmation could be in peril due to events that are beyond her control.
Two weeks ago, the FBI conducted a search of former President Trump’s Florida home at the behest of the National Archives. For the last 18 months, the National Archives has been trying to retrieve at least two dozen boxes of presidential records material that belong to the federal government but were taken to Mar-a-Lago.
Among the items missing were letters from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and a note that President Barack Obama left Trump, according to the New York Times.
Trump reportedly refused to turn over the materials, which triggered a criminal investigation and the FBI search.
This, however, has led a number of Republicans, as well as Trump himself, to criticize the FBI and the National Archives for what they believe is an overreach of authority and a “witch hunt.”
This has led some GOP senators who will be part of Shogan’s confirmation hearings to say that they will be questioning the nominee much more closely and will “absolutely demand answers” from her about the search.
It’s worth noting that Shogan had nothing to do with the National Archives’ 18-month attempt to get back records nor the FBI search since she was nominated only several weeks ago and is still awaiting confirmation.
Nonetheless, the Arlington resident could be facing a “hostile path to confirmation,” as Bloomberg reports.
While a date has yet to be set for a confirmation hearing, it is expected to happen within the next few months. In response to a request from ARLnow, the White House declined to arrange an interview with Shogan prior to the confirmation.
Aside from her academic and professional accomplishments, Shogan has another unique entry in her biography. She is a murder mystery author who pens novels starring a congressional staffer who has a habit of stumbling upon homicides.
One of her “Washington Whodunit” series of novels is entitled “Larceny at the Library.”
Arlington Public Library is getting more than a half a million dollars to add 12,000 more titles to its collection, mostly in the form of ebooks.
Last month, the County Board adopted a budget that included a one-time allocation of $543,000 to the county library system for the purpose of adding to its collection. That money will kick in at the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1.
“The additional funds will allow us to get more books into more hands, more quickly,” said Library Director Diane Kresh in a press release. “A well-stocked, diverse collection benefits the entire community.”
Notably, the money will go towards increasing the library’s collection of electronic titles. The demand for both of these are at an “all-time high,” according to Arlington Public Library, with check-outs increasing by 210% for eAudio titles and 98.5% for eBooks since 2019.
The hope is that the extra funds will help “drastically reduce” how long patrons are waiting for popular titles.
“The lion’s share of the one-time funding will go towards bringing down those wait times by adding more copies of ebook/eaudiobooks with high holds to the collection,” Peter Petruski, who is in charge of the library’s collections, told ARLnow via email.
A smaller portion of the funding will go to more copies of print books, since demand isn’t as high as it is for electronic versions. Print books cost less than their electronic equivalents, Petruski noted.
“The growth in the e-material formats has been the biggest change in recent history,” Petruski writes. “This funding will allow us to continue to provide a broad collection for every reader’s interest while bringing wait times down.”
The library will also expand its catalog of Spanish language books with some of the funding.
The County Board approved its $1.5 billion annual budget last month. In it, Arlington Public Library was allocated a total of about $16 million — an increase of close to 6% from the previous year’s budget.
(Updated at 10:35 a.m.) Arlington’s public libraries are trying to figure out how to get patrons back after Covid closures.
Since starting to reopen in mid-2021, library use has been down more than 25% from pre-pandemic levels, the Sun Gazette reports.
In a budget presentation with County Board members, longtime library director Diane Kresh acknowledged that the 75,000 users of her system in the days before COVID had dwindled to 55,000 today. (She didn’t do the math for board members, but it represents a drop of roughly 26.5 percent.)
“We want those people back. We’ve got to bring them back,” said Kresh, on hand to push for a library-system budget increase of 6 percent to $15.9 million and a staffing increase to about 140 full-time-equivalent positions from 131.
Meanwhile, while printed material remains the centerpiece of local libraries, digital rentals are quickly catching up. Kresh’s budget presentation cited the following national figures.
In 2009, non-digital materials made up 98% of a library’s collection. In 2019, that number was 45%.
In 2019, use of digital collections is at an all-time high of 37% of all collection use. This is triple what it was in 2013.
But in terms of borrowing, more physical books are borrowed than digital ones, with roughly 5.6 physical books borrowed per person per year and 3.5 digital.
The presentation noted that hold times in Arlington are long for popular material, like the novel The Lincoln Highway. Digital holds — e-books and e-audiobooks — are roughly twice as long as that for print, the presentation said, with 702 holds for the digital versions compared to 264 for print.
Arlington’s public library system, like others across the country, has been evolving its offerings, adding digital material rentals, holding various events and children’s activities, opening makerspaces, providing free meeting space rentals, and offering free Wi-Fi — indoors and outdoors — in addition to computer rentals.
A library is very much a public space: a place to meet up, study, research, create things, and participate in community activities.
Ultimately, though, much of the library system’s physical footprint and operational focus remains devoted to printed materials, at a time when you can read many books instantly on a screen and complete research projects entirely online.
There’s nostalgia for the democratization of knowledge unlocked by the Gilded Age rise of public libraries in the U.S., and print materials are still undoubtedly popular, but there is an argument to be made that libraries could serve more people by repurposing some space for more computers, kids activities and other public functions.
On the other hand, fewer physical books on the shelves could backfire and turn off some devoted patrons while failing to attract marginally higher numbers of new patrons.
What do you think? Should Arlington Public Library should consider gradually de-prioritizing print and using the space for other community uses?
(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) This afternoon, a group of Washington-Liberty High School students are giving their peers more than 100 copies of two politically controversial books.
The books are “Beloved,” Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel following a Black family during the Reconstruction era, and “Maus,” Art Spiegelman’s award-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust and his father’s life during World War II. Both have explicit content that has some parents and politicians questioning their place in schools.
Controversy around “Beloved” is part of the origin story for a bill passed by the state Senate earlier this month, which would require teachers to label classroom materials that have sexually explicit content. “Maus,” meanwhile, rocketed into the national spotlight after a Tennessee school board voted last month to remove the book from its curriculum due to “inappropriate language” and an illustration of a nude woman.
In addition to labeling classroom materials that have sexually explicit content, the new law requires teachers to notify parents if they are going to teach the materials. It gives parents the right to opt their children out of these lessons and request alternative materials.
But some high school students in Arlington and Fairfax counties are calling the law “backdoor censorship” and organized the distribution in response. It began at 3:15 p.m. in Quincy Park, near W-L.
“Great thinkers and proud Virginians like Thomas Jefferson, Maggie Walker, James Madison, George Mason and Oliver Hill — men and women who understood the importance of education and the value of studying difficult and divisive ideas — are rolling over in their graves,” W-L freshman and giveaway organizer Aaron Zevin-Lopez said in a statement.
Zevin-Lopez tells ARLnow he teamed up with George Marshall High School student Matt Savage — who has been facilitating distributions in Northern Virginia schools this month — to host a book giveaway in Arlington.
“Kids at my school understood that the Governor was attempting to limit reading rights within schools, so we thought that handing out the books beforehand could be a great way to spread the message of resistance and making sure the youth understands our past, both good and bad,” Zevin-Lopez said.
The two students are leaders of the Virginia chapter of a Gen-Z political advocacy group called Voters of Tomorrow, which is providing financial support for the giveaway.
“When the government establishes laws to label literature in terms of a single factor like ‘sexually explicit’, regardless of that factor’s significance to the larger world of literary merit or meaning, it edges closer to censorship,” said Savage, president of Voters of Tomorrow Virginia. “It means we are labeling content for the sole purpose of suppressing it.”
Watch out @GlennYoungkin, we’ve been handing out copies of ‘Beloved’ at Virginia high schools. Students deserve access to literature that teaches real history, and we’re proud to provide it. Thanks @nachyomommy and @MrMattSavage for organizing distribution – give them a follow! pic.twitter.com/QO1AWgYyzZ
— Voters of Tomorrow Virginia (@VOTVirginia) February 23, 2022
The students say requiring teachers to define their lessons in terms of how much “sexually explicit” content it contains will dissuade them from using anything that may be considered “objectionable.” They add that the law will force teachers to draft two entire lesson plans for one class on the objection of just one parent.
The bill is similar to one passed in 2016, which became known as the “Beloved” bill because it was inspired by a mother’s attempt to have the novel removed from her son’s English class. It was vetoed, however, by Gov. Terry McAuliffe — and his veto narrowly avoided being overturned by the House of Delegates.
The question of parental involvement in education became a central theme of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial campaign after McAuliffe said during a debate, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
Passing the law was a campaign promise of and priority for Youngkin when he assumed office. The Republican governor unsuccessfully tried to pass other laws, including one rooting out curriculum based on critical race theory, and created a tip line for people to report teaching strategies they object to.
Arlington Public Library’s annual series “Arlington Reads” is back in person this year, with seven events scheduled throughout the year.
The series will feature conversations between library system director Diane Kresh and notable authors about their favorite classic novels, sharing insights on why their universal themes remain relevant today.
The first event is March 2 and will highlight local poet Reginald Dwayne Betts. He’s also the founder of the nonprofit Freedom Reads, which is a partner on the series.
“2022’s [Arlington Reads] ‘Rebooting the Classics’ focuses on the classic novel: how it is defined, who is its audience, how it influences the works of other authors, and, most importantly, how it affects the reader,” writes Kresh to ARLnow about this year’s theme.
Since its inception in 2006, Arlington Reads has featured conversations with more than 50 nationally known authors. The last two, in 2020 and 2021, have strictly been virtual. The virtual events included conversations with Colson Whitehead and Alexis Coe.
This year’s iteration will essentially be a hybrid, with limited in-person seats available in Central Library’s auditorium and the events also streamed online.
Seven talks are scheduled from March to October, including with fiction author Deesha Philyaw, New Yorker staff writer and book critic Parul Sehgal, and well-known writer of “Lincoln in the Bardo” George Saunders.
Kresh and the writers will discuss impactful classic novels, including “The Great Gatsby,” “The Scarlet Letter,” and “Huckleberry Finn.” The series is financed with help from the Friends of the Arlington Public Library.
The first event’s author, Betts, is from Maryland and wrote “Felon,” a book of poetry about the impact of incarceration on one’s life. In 1996, he was arrested for committing a carjacking outside of Springfield Mall in Fairfax County. After serving time, he’s since become an acclaimed author, poet and advocate.
He founded the nonprofit Freedom Reads, which provides books to those who are incarcerated. The organization is partnering with Arlington Public Library on this year’s version of “Arlington Reads.”
“Freedom Reads gives books to people serving time and through this access, the chance to ‘deepen and envision their lives in new ways,'” writes Kresh.
Arlington-based nonprofit Offender Aid and Restoration, which helps individuals return to the community after being incarcerated, is also a partner for the series of events.
Last month, Covid-related staffing shortages resulted in several library branches shuttering — but all regular operations and services resumed on Jan. 31.