If you could see him now: World-traveling author swoops into Hyattsville

Thursday, Oct. 19, 2006

Author Michael Mewshaw has lived a life of adventure stateside and overseas, but his amazing story began in the small community of Riverdale.

With novels and seven non-fiction books to his credit, Mewshaw has earned the right to write something close to home.

His most recent work, ‘‘If You Could See Me Now,” is a memoir about young love lost and a woman who claimed to be his daughter.

During his years of at the University of Maryland, Mewshaw knew the woman’s mother and recently was able to connect her with her biological father.

The book, which came out in April, focuses on Mewshaw’s life growing up in Prince George’s County.

Mewshaw graduated from DeMatha High School in 1961 and is visiting the school tonight to inspire students.

‘‘I was always interested in writing,” Mewshaw said. ‘‘For reasons that I can’t entirely explain I always wanted to be a writer.”

Mewshaw has worked as an English professor and also writes book reviews for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.

He and wife Linda have been married for almost 40 years. They have two sons, Sean and Marc; both have arts-related careers.

His work has taken him to England, France, and other parts of Europe. He now lives in London and spends the cooler months in Key West, Fla.

‘‘[Rome] was a convenient place to live,” he said, adding that his novel, ‘‘Year of the Gun,” which was later made into a movie starring Sharon Stone, was written. ‘‘I have done a lot of different kinds of writing,” he said. ‘‘It’s been difficult to peg me in one way or the other.”

Non-fiction writing began as a means of supporting his fiction writing. He’s written books about professional tennis, murder cases and traveling.

He said living out of the country gives him a broader worldview, a grander perspective.

‘‘I think that distance is helpful,” he said. ‘‘Sometimes when you’re living in the belly of the beast, it’s difficult to get a handle on things without the stresses that American life brings.

Mewshaw also has lived and worked in Africa and Asia.

‘‘Other parts of the world are intensely interested in the U.S.,” he said. One of the things that always occurs to me ... is how little the U.S. seems to care ... about what’s going on elsewhere.”

And yet there are things that draw Mewshaw back to his home.

His message dovetails with an initiative of the school’s alumni.

‘‘Coincidentally, our Alumni Association wanted to start a lecture series with authors and other notable people,” said Tom Ponton, who is coordinating Mewshaw’s appearance. ‘‘It was a natural.”

The author is anxious to spin his tales to DeMatha students.

‘‘I think that when people are interested in the arts — I think that they have a feeling that success depends about 90 percent on inspiration but it really depends enormously on your level of commitment and energy,” he said.

‘‘If you’re interested in writing, if you want to be good at it and make a living at it, you have to be willing to work awfully hard, harder than other people.”

During his tenure at DeMatha, Mewshaw was an avid basketball player. He said the school has come far since his days walking the halls.

‘‘I’m curious about how DeMatha has changed since I went there,” he said, adding that the Catholic school is more ethnically diverse and that more DeMatha graduates attend college than did in the 1960s.

‘‘I’m very, very heartened that they’ve managed to combine athletic competition with academic competition,” he said.

Mewshaw’s repertoire includes a novel called ‘‘True Crime.” The book is set in Hyattsville and the East Pines area.

When the work debuted in 1991, locals protested the negative light in which he portrayed the community and talked about burning Mewshaw’s work.

The author embraced the response.

‘‘I thought, ‘well, if they read the book it wouldn’t matter to me,’” he said.

‘‘If they get emotional in one way or the other, that’s fine. Maybe I’ve achieved something then.”

Another book with Maryland ties is ‘‘Life or Death,” a true story set in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties.

The tale recounts Mewshaw’s relationship with a childhood friend who murdered his parents.

A dinner will be held at 7 p.m. in the school’s Antler Room before Mewshaw’s talk.

E-mail Sarah Nemeth at snemeth@gazette.net.