At 80, Susan Richards Shreve has long been one of the leading novelists in a city better known for its nonfiction. Now she’s back with her 15th novel, More News Tomorrow, loosely inspired by a photograph she found of her grandfather taken at the Wisconsin summer camp he ran. From that simple image, Shreve concocted a plot involving an unsolved murder from the 1940s. The book toggles back and forth between 2008 and World War II–era Wisconsin while also exploring timely themes of anti-Semitism, race relations, and social justice.
Shreve—who moved to Washington when she was three and went to Sidwell Friends (which makes an appearance in the book)—says she finds the relative anonymity of the local literary life some-what liberating. “If people pay less attention, there is something good about that,” she explains. “It allows you to move around the city and meet different people, to learn things without being seen.”
At the same time, Shreve has worked hard to nurture Washington’s fiction-writing community. A cofounder of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, the Washington-based literary advocacy organization, she has created a writing group for women in DC and started the Writers in Schools program, which brings authors to area classrooms. Shreve often plays host to novelist peers who come to town, throwing parties and inviting visitors to stay in her home. “I am just fed by other people,” she says.
When we caught up with her at the stately Cleveland Park farmhouse she has lived in since 2007, Shreve had just breezed in from a weekend of theater in New York. But the house hadn’t sat empty while she was away. With her kids now grown and living elsewhere, she has invited six burgeoning authors to use the studio behind her home as a place to create and socialize.
The group started working out of Shreve’s house after the 2015 death of her husband, the renowned literary agent Timothy Seldes. As a result, the space has been filled with new energy that she can both inspire and be inspired by. Though she has lots of experience as a writing teacher, she describes her role here as simply “chat and gossip.”
“It was just nice to have people coming in the house,” she says. “Writing is a lonely profession.”
This article appears in the July 2019 issue of Washingtonian.