Growing up in Los Angeles as a fan of the cinema, Bárbara Mujica was curious about the legendary actress Dolores del Río—the first major Latina star in Hollywood. Mujica, a Bethesda writer and professor emerita of Spanish literature at Georgetown University, decided the best way to tell her story was through fiction. Her novel Miss del Río (Graydon House, October 2022) follows the celebrity’s career, starting with silent films in the 1920s and including her philanthropy in Mexico, where she advocated for a system of day care centers. “Beauty had been defined since the Renaissance as blonde and blue-eyed. She was the exotic beauty who broke those stereotypes,” Mujica says. “She wasn’t just a pretty face. She was a woman who was very aware of the vapidity of Hollywood and always yearned to do something significant.”
After spending more than three years researching the life of Elizabeth Taylor, Bethesda journalist Kate Andersen Brower found the legendary movie star to be even more complex than we knew. Her addictive personality, multiple marriages and abuse at the hands of her father brought her a lot of heartache, as Brower spells out in Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit and Glamour of an Icon (Harper, December 2022). Yet, Taylor was shrewd as a celebrity entrepreneur, and compassionate as an AIDS activist. Brower interviewed and dedicated the book to Taylor’s sixth husband, former U.S. Sen. John Warner of Virginia, who wanted the public to know and respect her story. “She was always fighting to get what she wanted,” Brower says. “The way she picked herself up after tragedy again and again in her life is inspirational.”
As a prominent champion for women’s rights in Iran and around the world, Mahnaz Afkhami says she owed it to the next generation of activists to share lessons learned in her career. The Other Side of Silence: A Memoir of Exile, Iran, and the Global Women’s Movement (The University of North Carolina Press, October 2022) chronicles Afkhami’s work, from serving as Iran’s first minister of women’s affairs to founding the Bethesda-based nonprofit Women’s Learning Partnership, which represents 20 women’s-rights organizations in the Global South. The 81-year-old Chevy Chase resident says engaging in collective action and including men are key. “The only way that you can have the hopes and goals of the women’s movement realized,” she says, “is to have the other half of the population involved.”
Willard Jenkins says his parents were devoted jazz fans who influenced his early love of the genre and decision to write about it. After discovering there weren’t many Black journalists who covered jazz, he arranged to interview those he could find about their experiences. For years, he posted the interviews on his website, Open Sky Jazz, but eventually realized he had enough material for a book. The result: Ain’t But a Few of Us: Black Music Writers Tell Their Story (Duke University Press, December 2022). “Major and recognized historical innovators of the music have largely been Black, and those who have chronicled the music have not. That’s a very interesting peculiarity of sorts—and that’s what we explore,” says Jenkins, a Rockville resident and artistic director of the DC Jazz Festival.