For this week's issue Van Biema went downtown to a Manhattan East Village backyard to interview sculptor Garnet Puett, who uses thousands of Italian honeybees to create the waxy buildup on his pieces (page 98). "Oddly beautiful sculpture," Van Biema says. "Half creepy and half gorgeous. It comes out looking like Salvador Dali." What particularly impressed Van Biema, who as a child was deathly afraid of bees, was that during the interview the sculptor was stung three times without flinching!
Also in this issue, Van Biema profiles novelist Dominick Dunne (page 77), an assignment that entailed only a mild excursion down to the novelist's lower Fifth Avenue digs. Van Biema found a onetime Hollywood producer who has survived career setbacks and the devastating killing of his only daughter to start afresh as a writer. "It's nice to see somebody who, no matter how much life has put him through, remains bright-eyed and interested," says Van Biema of Dunne. "He's got a lot of spirit and natural curiosity."
Two traits that Van Biema, 29, shares. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Connecticut's Wesleyan University, he did a tour as an office boy for the Bonn bureau of the New York Times. "I kept bothering the correspondents to let me write," he recalls. "They said, 'Why don't you go bother the people over at TIME?' "
Van Biema's persistence paid off in a stringer's stint for TIME. "They needed someone who spoke decent German," he says. The language came easily. His father, Gerhard, left Hitler's Germany in the late '30s and is today vice president of a New Jersey chemical export company. His New York-born mother, Mary, is librarian at Mannes College of Music.
In the past three years Van Biema has interviewed both former national security adviser William Clark and the man who introduced Reese's Pieces candy. Says Van Biema: "I like going from a total human interest, oddball story to an article that's in the middle of the news. It's a heady feeling doing something small and cute one day and being in the middle of the press maelstrom the next." And fun to read, too, we might add.