Meet Beth Arnold, an American journalist, blogger, and award-winning writer living in Paris, France. Beth currently produces a regular column for the Huffington Post (“Letter From Paris”); her prime journalistic topics are politics, culture, people, and travel. Here is her story.
What is your name, age, and location?
Beth Arnold, 56, Paris.
What is your profession?
Writer/journalist/blogger/creator and avid new media person.
What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?
I took lots of English, literature, writing, some theater, social sciences, social work, and humanities. I avoided math and sciences at all costs. I have a BA and a MSW (Master of Social Work).
What was your first job?
My first real-ish job was selling tickets at the Batesville, Arkansas municipal swimming pool. It was lots of fun making some of my own money and having after-hours pool parties with my co-workers, snacking on frozen “Zero” candy bars in the scorching Arkansas summer. My first adult job was working for a regional mental health clinic in Nashville and DeQueen, Arkansas as a therapist and nursing home consultant. I heard amazing stories, and I became a terrific interviewer. I learned how to listen to people.
Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?
From the time I was a child, the written word—books, newspapers, even cartoons—were very important to my two brothers and me. Our grandmother was an English teacher, and she read literature to us all the time. Our father read us the funny papers (cartoons), which was a big treat on Sunday mornings. Looking back now, I believe I was compelled by characters and stories in all forms.
My father died while I was in high school, and I started writing poetry after that. I realized on an intuitive level that I could express myself by writing, and it was one way I used to cope with my depression after my father’s tragic death. Who knew how to deal with such a loss at 15 years old?
Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far.
Three most rewarding projects: my screenplay, Deadline, for which I was a semi-finalist for a Nicholl Fellowship through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. My novel, Innocent Lanier, for which I was a finalist for a Bunting Fellowship through the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard (to work on a new novel). And my non-fiction book, Picking the Bones.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career.
Being a woman has given my writing perception, experience, and consciousness on a deeper level than the average white male. My intuitive self is more tuned in than most men’s. These are great skills for a writer to have.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career.
It is still a man’s world, and I’ve run up against misogynists that were petty, jealous, or didn’t want to see me (or probably any other woman) do well or advance. Sometimes this is under the guise of being open and progressive.
Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?
I admire Paul Newman for being such a whole person, for having a solid marriage with Joanne Woodward and for the marriage of his masculine and feminine sides. Katherine Graham for running The Washington Post with courage and uncommon sense. Katharine Hepburn for living life on her terms. Coco Chanel for giving women a modern notion of ourselves in our clothes. The Lost Generation for their sense of art, writing, and the world. My father for being such a good man, living life with such enthusiasm, and teaching me to believe in myself. My mother for being so determined and brave. My grandmother, Abby Arnold, for her joy in life and her faith in God and in all of us. My brother Brent for his wonder and generosity. Cormac McCarthy and Milan Kundera for their prose. Mary Wollstonecraft, M.F.K. Fisher, Eudora Welty, and Doris Lessing. I could go on and on.
If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?
Write, write, write. Be yourself. Believe in yourself—and don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do. You define you. Keep your own faith.
– Interview by Jessica Gross