Burmese Travels Inspire Pederson

[pullquote-left]Author speaks on hope for country amid conflict[/pullquote-left]

In her career, Preston Hollow resident Rena Pederson has interviewed Fidel Castro, Margaret Thatcher, Julia Child, Jane Goodall, and U.S. presidents from Carter to Bush.

She’s been a speechwriter for the U.S. State Department, a vice president and editorial page editor at The Dallas Morning News, and a member of the Pulitzer Prize board.

In 1987, Texas Monthly named her one of the most powerful women in Texas. But you will never hear her brag.

“I have been a lucky duck,” she said.

Her roles in journalism and policy would prepare her for the greatest one yet: author. Pederson has now penned her fourth book, The Burma Spring: Aung San Suu Kyi and the New Struggle for the Soul of a Nation, based on her travels to the country and interviews with Suu Kyi.

For those unfamiliar, Suu Kyi is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and opposition leader in Burma (also technically known as Myanmar), and leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma. She faced 15 years of house arrest under the country’s military dictatorship, and is now a key contender in this year’s election.

“It’s more important than ever before to get her story out,” said Pederson, who teaches persuasive writing at SMU at the graduate level. “Any time there’s a military regime, women and children suffer.”

Pederson has visited the country eight times, and interviewed Suu Kyi twice — even under her house arrest in 2003.

“I worked for a year to set up an interview, which was really tricky because at the time, no press visas were granted,” she said. “She was, quite simply, the most impressive person I’ve ever met. She has this aura … I think it’s because of her character in the midst of such difficulties.”

After spending a few years translating these eye-opening visits into a manuscript, Pederson found the right publisher for her book and the right person to write her foreword: former First Lady Laura Bush.

“Mrs. Bush has long been a supporter of the people of Burma, and of Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Margaret Spellings, president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

Pederson first met Bush in 2006 when she was invited to a United Nations session on Burma.

Bush had a personal correspondence with Suu Kyi and eventually started a young leaders program in Burma.

“Monks would tell me, ‘tell Laura Bush thank you,’’ Pederson said of her visits to the country.

Now that the book is out, Pederson has held a book signing at her neighborhood Barnes and Noble, but the Bush Center also hosted an event for her on April 14.

“Hosting an event with Rena Pederson, who is a leading expert on Burma and shares a passion for the country’s fledgling democracy, is a natural fit for the Bush Center,” Spellings said. “[It’s] a great opportunity to shine a light on the democracy movement in Burma, as well as the important work that’s happening right here in Dallas.”

No doubt, the book has garnered much attention from the literary and political fields.

The Burma Spring captures Aung San Suu Kyi’s courageous fight for democracy,” reads one review from Sen. John McCain.

But Pederson isn’t in it for the political notoriety. She’s in it to bring awareness of the global stage to a greater audience.

“I do think people have ‘compassion fatigue.’ There is so much violence in the rest of the world,” she said. “But I do believe injustice anywhere is an injustice we should all care about.”

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