USA | 2010
Nathaniel Rich was born in 1980 in New York City. His first novel,
The Mayor’s Tongue, was published in 2008. Previously he published a work of nonfiction,
San Francisco Noir: The City in Film Noir from 1940 to the Present. His essays and criticism have appeared in The New York Review of Books, Harper’s Magazine, and Vanity Fair, among other publications, and for five years he served as fiction editor of The Paris Review. He lives in New Orleans.
I spent one of the most magical months of my life at Santa Maddelena. I’d been to residencies before. This was no residency. It was something much larger and more profound. The best way I can describe it is to say that, from the moment I arrived, I felt as if I’d been adopted by a new—and marvelously eccentric—family. The family’s members did not only include the other writers who were staying at Santa Maddelena during my stay but all of those who had come before. Their books filled the library, their stories lived on in our conversations, and their spirits animated the villa.
Beatrice von Rezzori has created a miracle and I know that nothing like it exists anywhere else. It seems like an understatement to say that the intense power of the place—its warmth and beauty, the camaraderie with fellows present and past, and the rich sense of literary tradition one feels there—reflects her guiding sensibility and enthusiastic efforts to create a haven for writers.
I did a tremendous amount of work at Santa Maddelena: I revised a draft of my second novel, I wrote a long, personal essay about Saul Bellow, another essay about Benvenuto Cellini, and a long short story inspired by a conversation I had with Beatrice. I also read a lot—especially the books of Gregor von Rezzori, in whose studio I worked, and whose humor and character felt alive everywhere on the property. I also learned essential lessons about how to wear a seersucker suit, the correct way to eat a fruit with a fork and knife, and what strategies to employ in Chinese checkers.
Santa Maddelena is an ideal place in which to write, and I accomplished a great deal. But I was most moved by the feeling of being welcomed so warmly into a fraternity that includes not only the writers who have stayed at Santa Maddelena but also the artists, writers, and filmmakers who visited the von Rezzoris in the years before the foundation was established. The spirit of the place energized me during my stay, and energized my work. I’ll never forget it.