USA | 2005, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2016
Andrew Sean Greer, born in 1970 in Washington D.C., is the bestselling author of
The Story of a Marriage and
The Confessions of Max Tivoli, which was named a best book of 2004 by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune while garnering many other coast-to-coast honors. His first novel,
The Path of Minor Planets, and his story collection,
How It Was for Me, were also published to wide acclaim. His stories have appeared in Esquire, The Paris Review, The New Yorker, and other national publications, and have been anthologized most recently in The Book of Other People and Best American Nonrequired Reading. His latest book is
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells. He is the recipient of the PEN/O’Henry Prize for Short Fiction, the Northern California Book Award, the California Book Award, the New York Public Library Young Lions Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Public Library. Greer currently lives in San Francisco and New York. His first visit to Santa Maddalena was in 2005 and was a finalist for the Premio Gregor von Rezzori in 2009. His next novel will be out in 2017.
All I can really say is that I have have either begun or ended all of my last three novels at Santa Maddalena—that is to say, the breakthrough happened there. Is it the incredible setting, the absolute solitude, the inspiring rooms and artwork and library, the rich conversation, the exposure to writers from around the world? Who knows? I only know I am willing to travel around the world to be in a studio there, where I know my work will come to life.
I had hoped, with a new book coming out in late June, that I would be able to begin a new novel here at Santa Maddalena. I did more than that: in only four weeks, I wrote sixty pages of a new book and forty pages of another piece I’m working on. I do not know how it happened, only that the freedom, intelligent conversation, exposure to art and aids me in a way no other place can. I arrived at Santa Maddalena with nothing—and now I am deep into a book. I am ever grateful.
My stay at Santa Maddalena, both the long stretches of time in private art-filled rooms, and the inspiration of Tuscan countryside and dinner conversation, inspired me to take great leaps on a novel I have been working on for some time. I would even say that I solved the novels’ problems during those six weeks! And here it is, finished at last, all due to the unique environment and generosity of the Santa Maddalena Foundation. I can never express my gratitude enough.
I arrived at Santa Maddalena full of doubt and trepidation about my latest book—after the success of my previous book, I found myself abandoning a novel idea and beginning another, which is an unsettling moment for a writer. Santa Maddalena was in many ways a test for me; I would dive into the novel and discover, there in Italy, whether I would be able to sustain it. If yes, then all doubt would be gone and I would still be a novelist; if no, then trouble. I had only four weeks.
My arrival is a bit of a blur to me; I arrived having just won the New York Public Library Young Lions Award for a writer under 35 and was feeling elated, jet-lagged, and more than a bit fraudulent. I decided to take local trains to Donnini, which the Baronessa had advised against, but I worked it out with all my bags and found waiting for me at the train two fellow writers and a driver who spoke no English. They were both young writers I’d met before and greatly admired, so I was eager to make a good first impression; they quickly asked if I’d ever met the third writer in residence before and said he was absolutely awful, horrible, making their lives miserable. I said I would be careful. It was a couple minutes before the driver interrupted with a barrage of unconvincing Italian. Immediately I recognized the ruse; my jetlag had been taken advantage of. There was no Italian driver; here was the third writer.
The four of us quickly became fast friends and advisors on each others’ work; I cannot overstate how invaluable this has been for me.
But it was the Baronessa who was my greatest supporter; she had read all my work, admired it, selected me, and refused to believe I had any doubts as a writer. My novel idea sounded good to her; she had certainly dealt with artistic doubt many times before and was convinced I would overcome it. She pressed books into my hands, showed me her collection of art; she gave me, as my studio, her own late husband’s office, the drawers still piled with his manuscripts, his turquoise Olivetti still sitting near the window, before a magnificent view of the Tuscan valley. Jasmine bloomed in vines outside that window; blue-winged bees came and went. In four weeks, I finished the first third of my novel; it was a different beast from the story that had inspired it. As Nabokov once wrote, it had grown “the wings and claws of a novel.” I had been saved.
I cannot expect ever to find an equal to that atmosphere of writers gathered to do their best work, to discuss it over espresso and biscotti bought in town, learning about artwork and incorporating it into our novels as dialogue or metaphor and fighting over who got to write about a particular image of a pregnant Madonna, long thoughtful walks in the countryside in a world so removed from my own that it became the world of my writing, as if my mind had been turned inside-out, overseen by a Baronessa who never doubted for a moment that this would be so. It is impossible to dream of being invited back; I can only content myself in knowing other writers will have the same chance.
With much gratitude,
Andrew Sean Greer