Making Surprises: 4 Questions with Mary Jordan

Interviews
Mary Jordan writes about national political issues for The Washington Post. She spent 14 years abroad as a foreign correspondent and Washington Post co-bureau chief in Tokyo, Mexico City and London. She has written from more than 40 countries. She and her husband and Washington Post colleague, Kevin Sullivan, won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for their investigation of the Mexican justice system. Jordan has taught journalism at Georgetown University, and she spent a year studying at Harvard University on a Nieman Fellowship and a year at Stanford University studying Spanish. She has been on-site covering many of the biggest stories of our time, including women’s rights in Pakistan and the 2016 presidential campaign. After the election, she spent months talking to the voters who elected Donald Trump. She and Sullivan have written two books together: “Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland,” which was a No. 1 New York Times bestseller in 2015, and “The Prison Angel” in 2005. Jordan is also the author of the New York Times bestseller “The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump,” published in 2020. She also contributed to “Trump Revealed,” a Washington Post staff biography of Donald Trump published in 2016; and “Nine Irish Lives,” publishing in March 2018. She was the founding editor and moderator of Washington Post Live, which organizes current affairs forums and debates. In 2016, The Washington Post honored Jordan with the Eugene Meyer Award for distinguished service, based on the principles of the paper’s legendary former owner: Tell the truth for the public good and always be fair.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a writer?

Good writing is clear thinking. It’s jotting down what you have learned.  Great writing is clear thoughts set to music – words and phrases and sentences with rhythm.  

What has been the biggest surprise of your writing life?

That some people actually enjoy writing. I find it hard, even after all these years.  I do love having written. Writing to me is like exercising. I find doing sit-ups and going to hot yoga hellish but appreciate their importance and enjoy the feeling when class is over.     

If you had to choose a metaphor to describe yourself as a writer, what would it be?

 A surprise-maker. Because the last thing writing should be is boring.  

What is the single best piece of writing advice anyone ever gave you?

If you are writing a book , don’t end the day when you hit a roadblock. Wrap up when you are excited about where you are going and see the path ahead. That way you start the next day with momentum.

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