Washington Post Book World editor steps down

Heir apparent's personal life may complicate matters.

Published July 15, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

After 11 years as editor of the Washington Post Book World, Nina King is stepping down. King, who is in her late 50s, has suffered from Parkinson's disease for 13 years. She will stay on at Book World as a contributing editor. Deputy editor and heir apparent Marie Arana, 49, may be on the path to succession, if love doesn't get in the way first.

Last spring, Arana shocked her colleagues when she announced at a meeting that she and the Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic, 58-year-old Jonathan Yardley, were in love and were leaving their respective families. Eventually the two bought a house and got married. The Post's management, notorious for prohibiting interoffice affairs, turned a blind eye.

"I'm surprised that she's been able to remain in Book World with her husband there. In the past that situation was never able to exist," says a friend of Arana's, former Post veteran Chuck Conconi, who is editor at large at the Washingtonian. "But she's beautiful, smart and speaks five languages. She's top of the line." Conconi also pointed out that Arana, who has announced her candidacy to the Post's management, is part Peruvian, and a Hispanic woman at the helm of Book World would combat the review's old-boy image.

In the past, the Post has not been so tolerant. The lovers and spouses of several star writers and editors -- including Lynn Darling and, more recently, Clinton biographer David Maraniss, another Pulitzer winner -- have been pressured to seek employment outside the Post. In this case, if Arana becomes Book World's editor, the Post's marquee book reviewer could be edited by his wife. Arana, speaking with Salon Books Wednesday, was unequivocal about the prospect of her husband working for her. "He would have to report to someone else."

"Marie's one of the best things there," says Conconi. "They can't afford to lose her." His publication last March criticized Book World for "its conflicted sense of mission." If Arana takes over the review, it seems, ironically, that her husband may be the one faced with the hard decision.

By Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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