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Andrea Useem — Need-to-Know Bio

Andrea Useem is currently producer and editor of “On Leadership,” the new online forum and video feature at washingtonpost.com. Andrea has also written, edited and produced web-related content for a number of publications and institutions, including Health.com, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, [email protected], and the Religion News Service; her articles on religion have appeared in Slate.com, Beliefnet.com, The Washington Post, USA Today, Islamica magazine, Ms. magazine and other print and online outlets. Andrea’s  booklet on religious congregations and Web 2.0 technologies for the Alban Institute’s Congregational Resource Guide is due out in early 2009.  Andrea holds a Master of Theological Studies from the Harvard Divinity School, where she studied Arabic intensively, and a bachelor’s degree in religion from Dartmouth College. Previously, Andrea spent four years in Nairobi, Kenya, as a freelance foreign correspondent for major U.S. publications, including The Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Chronicle of Higher Education; she has also lived in Muscat, Oman. She is married and has three sons.

Andrea Useem - Leisurely Bio

Raised in Newton, Ma., Andrea learned everything she knows about writing from Mrs. Schnorr (her seventh-grade English teacher), Mrs. Hubbard (tenth-grade English), and Helen Smith, faculty adviser of The Newtonite, the award-winning Newton North High School newspaper where Andrea served as news-analysis editor. Thanks to her mother, she regularly attended Grace Episcopal Church.

At Dartmouth College, Andrea majored in religion and took a special interest in the writings of Søren Kierkegaard. She studied abroad in Nairobi, Kenya, her junior year and also interned at the YWCA in Mombasa before traveling through election-year Mozambique with a childhood friend. Back at Dartmouth, she wrote her senior thesis on the controversy surrounding the Smithsonian’s 50th anniversary display of the Enola Gay, with help from thesis advisers Ron Green and Pulitzer Prize-winner Marty Sherwin. A short essay version of her thesis won the 1995 Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics.

Intensely interested in religion, and Quakerism in particular, Andrea spent three months studying religion and Swahili at Woodbrooke, a Quaker study center in Birmingham, England, thanks to guidance from retired Dartmouth professor and Quaker Peter Bien. Andrea then returned to Nairobi, where she spent 1996 as a reporter for Interlink Rural Information Service (IRIS), a Kenyan-run news agency; Andrea’s reporting on social and environmental issues appeared in East Africa’s leading newspapers.

Over the next three years, while still based in Nairobi, Andrea wrote regularly for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, Boston Globe and Chronicle of Higher Education, reporting and photographing stories in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt, Yemen and Israel. She also served as regional editor for the London-based magazine Africa Today and contributed articles to numerous other publications including Ms. magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Century and The Baltimore Sun.

After reporting first-hand on the 1998 embassy bombing in Nairobi, Andrea became intrigued by Islam, a religion she knew little about. She studied informally with Muslim leaders in Kenya, Egypt and Sudan, and what started as a journalistic interest gradually became a personal conviction. Just before leaving Africa for good in the fall of 1999, she formally embraced Islam while in Zimbabwe.

Back in the United States, Andrea earned her Master’s of Theological Studies at the Harvard Divinity School. She studied Arabic at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies and Middlebury’s renowned summer language institute. She met and married an American convert to Islam in early 2001, before graduating from Harvard that spring. After long consideration, she decided against pursuing a Ph.D. in religious studies, largely because she preferred the fast pace and wide reach of journalism.

With their young son in tow, Andrea and her husband moved in 2002 to Muscat, Oman, where they lived for two years. Though Andrea did not work in Oman, she experienced gender-segregated Persian Gulf culture from the inside as a young mother. Andrea and her husband returned to the U.S. in 2003, now with two sons, and settled in Northern Virginia. In 2005, Andrea reported weekly on religion news for the Washington Examiner’s “Faith” page before again taking time off after the birth of a third son.

Today Andrea lives with her family in Northern Virginia and works from her home office, writing regularly on religion and other topics for national publications. A member of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS Center), Andrea continues to take a special interest in reporting on Islam, leveraging her experiential, journalistic and academic knowledge of the subject. An enthusiastic member of the Religion Newswriters Association, Andrea is alternately awed, excited and panicked by the massive shifts cracking apart the news industry, and she is trying to adapt her skills accordingly.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Where does your name come from?

Before an Ellis Island clerk got to it, “Useem” was “Usemov.” The Jewish family of my grandfather, John Useem, emigrated from the Ukraine in the 1920s during a period of Czarist persecution. John and his wife, my grandmother Ruth Hill Useem, were anthropologists and sociologists at Michigan State University.

Are you related to…?

Generally speaking, anyone with the name Useem is related to me.

Would you consider editing my Ph.D. thesis?

No, but thanks for asking.

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