Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss shared his writing process with students and the greater Brunswick community in his talk on Tuesday, and conveyed his desire to dig for truth and his belief in the power of stories. His talk was entitled “The Art of Biography and the Search for the Truth.”

Maraniss completed his work, “Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story” in September, which is the culminating book in a trilogy about the 1960s. He currently serves as an associate editor at The Washington Post.

According to Director of Events and Summer Programs Tony Sprague, Maraniss’ experience with politics and particularly with the happenings of the presidential campaign trail made him a particularly appealing invite to campus. Maraniss wrote a 1995 biography of Bill Clinton, and received a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Clinton campaign.

Maurice Asare ’19 was particularly interested in Maraniss’ discussion of the Clinton campaign.
“[I was interested in] the nature of Hillary Clinton and how her personality, the defensiveness that she has created in herself as a result of her husband’s mess in his political and personal life, translates into her candidacy in this presidential election.”

In his talk, Maraniss revealed his own writing inspiration and his mentors.

"I was lucky. My father was a newspaperman, and he was my first mentor,” he said. “I’ve had authors ranging from Robert Caro, the author of [“The Years of Lyndon Johnson”] and “The Power Broker”...[to] some people that I’ve never met, like George Orwell, [as inspiration]. Not his novels, but his essays have inspired me too. It is the clarity with which he wrote that made me think, ‘Well that’s obvious! So why hasn’t anybody else written it like that?’ That’s sort of a model that I try to get to.”

He emphasized the writers’ refrain that the obvious only becomes obvious when it’s obvious.
“Something that should be apparent just washes over me in a more profound way,” he said. 
Sprague aimed to bring a speaker to Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government Andrew Rudalevige asked Maraniss to speak about his obsessive writing style.

“[Obsession] springs from who I am—it’s a combination of things that I love that also happen to have some larger essence to them,” said Maraniss. “I’m looking for both the dramatic story and for the larger sociological themes.”

Chasing these obsessions has taken Maraniss all over the world. 

“My motto is really to go there, wherever there is,” he said. “And that makes all the difference in understanding the culture and the sociology of the place.”

“I was impressed by his sociological imagination,” said Sarah Steffen ’16, who attended the talk. “I try to go to as many different talks and lectures while I’m at Bowdoin because I don’t know when I’ll be in such a vibrant learning community after these four years.”

Steffen was also struck by Maraniss’ description of his emphasis on his subjects’ upbringing, identity and sense of self.

“I was really interested in the idea of how your background shapes everything in your life,” she said. “How he differentiated between physiological analysis and his explanation of what he meant by that was really compelling.”

At age 43, Maraniss had never written a book. But then he went on to write his lauded biography of Clinton and later, one about Obama.

“[I] had some opportunities, but it didn’t feel quite right,” said Maraniss. “And then I covered Clinton in ’92 for the newspaper and woke up the day after election and said, ‘I’m ready.’”