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February 2003

Persia’s World

How American writer Persia Walker came to live in Munich

No one is more surprised than Persia Walker, a born and bred New Yorker that she has made her home in Munich. Wanting a taste of the “European experience,” Walker accepted a transfer from the New York bureau of the Associated Press, where she was working at the World Desk in 1988, to their Radio for Europe office in Munich. “When I first dreamt of being in Europe I had wanted to go to Paris. But then I lived with that idea for so long that I was already bored with it.” So when a job in Munich became available, Walker accepted eagerly, never imagining how long she would stay.

The amiable New Yorker began her working life as a journalist. After graduating from Columbia University Walker took on a job at the news desk of a local radio station in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. It was not a happy time for the city-loving reporter. “The town had more animals than humans! When they canceled their rock slot and moved their D.J. into news with me, I couldn’t take it anymore. I lasted all of five months.” After a stint freelancing for CNN, Walker, following a whim, applied to the Associated Press. Colleagues and friends in the industry were not encouraging, saying that it was a long shot and she would almost certainly be turned down. The best, Walker was told, she could hope for was a free evaluation of her writing. Much to everyone’s surprise she was taken on. “Since I never thought I would get the job, I agreed to any posting they offered me. It happened to be Little Rock, Arkansas. Another planet! I was to be there for five months. How I cried.” However, Walker did see a little bit of history in the making. It was 1985, and Clinton was in his second term as governor. “Even back then,” she says thoughtfully, “he was being groomed for President, although he would never admit it. He was the Democrats’ only hope. He had a lot of charisma and could reach out to everyone. At the time he was pacifying farmers over a particular tax. As an Oxford scholar, he had a lot of polish, but he never lost his ability to make voters believe in him.”

After surviving the Little Rock posting, Walker transferred to the broadcast center of the A.P. in Washington, DC, a period of her life that she looks back on with affection. “This was the most memorable time for me. Right after I got there, the Beirut hijackings took place. There was so much tension and chaos, but the team was always supportive and caring of one another. Whenever I go back to the United States, I always visit the DC office and more than 20 years later, the same team is still around. That shows you how much they love being there. I miss them all.”

This job was followed by the New York posting, and the subsequent move to Germany. Then, in 1994, Walker’s career took an unexpected turn when the Radio for Europe offices closed. Increasingly tied to Munich by a young family, the plucky Walker decided to follow up a long-cherished dream and become a creative writer. With a desktop publishing course under her belt she finally put pen to paper. “And, boy, was it a jumbled mess,” she remembers. “It reflected every jolt and tumble I was going through in my personal life.” Undaunted she took a break, straightened out her life and picked up the pen once more. It was 1997. Walker wrote to several agents and finally found one, who tried to get her first novel, Shifting Ground, published. This was a murder mystery set in the U.S. fashion industry. Sadly, her agent only received what Walker calls “rave rejections” and the book was not published. Then, in 1998, she hit upon the idea for her current novel, Harlem Redux, another thriller. “I have always loved reading them, so I wanted to try and write one. Along with romance novels, the genre is known to sell very well. Romantic novels require an optimism that is just beyond me. I tried writing one once and it made my agent weep.”

Harlem Redux (published in June 2002) was developed from a short story Walker wrote over 20 years ago. She didn’t want to write about the glamorous sides of Harlem such as the Jazz scene or the Harlem Renaissance, which have already been well documented. Instead she preferred to highlight the class struggles within the black community itself, “how they treated one another, which was not always a pretty sight.” Writing requires discipline and Walker tries to crank out 1,500 to 2,000 words every day. Raising two children means that there are often conflicts of interest. “I find myself sitting at my computer trying to figure out how to kill off a character when my son starts wailing for ice-cream and I just have to capitulate to be able to get back to my thought process.” All in all, Walker has a love-hate relationship to her writing. “It’s like marriage, sometimes you look at your husband and think ‘What was I thinking?’ But if he were to walk out, you’d probably say ‘Where are you going? Don’t leave!’” Nor does she harbor any romantic notions about the business side of being an author. “A run-in with the New York publishing world is a very sobering experience. You realize you are part of a big machine in which the bottom line is profit.”

At some point Walker began feeling homesick for New York, but changed her mind abruptly when George W. Bush won the presidential election. “That ruled it out for me. As Julia Roberts says, ‘Bush will never be MY president’.” So at the moment Walker is content to raise her children in Munich, a safe city. “Lack of crime is a big factor for an American.” She finds it “international enough to get a sense of the real world and just small enough to feel protected.” She also praises the city’s parks, the Bavarian countryside and the medical and school systems. But she also knows that once the children’s schooling days are over, the pull of New York will be stronger and harder to resist than ever before.

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