USA | 2004
Doug Wright won the 2000 Obie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Playwriting for his play Quills, and his screenplay adaptation was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards. His newest play I Am My Own Wife received widespread critical acclaim and opened on Broadway in 2003 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004. He has held the Charles MacArthur Fellowship at the Eugene O’ Neill Theater Centre, the William L. Bardley Fellowship at Yale and the Alfred Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University.
My time at Santa Madelena was profoundly special. Beatrice von Rezzori has single-handedly constructed an ideal environment for writer’s of every stripe; on the lush grounds of her villa in Tuscany, she offers a sanctuary from the middling concerns of every day life, supplanting them with ample room for quiet contemplation, aesthetic invention, and the sudden, always unexpected intrusion of the Muse.
I had the rare privilege of working in Gregor von Rezzori’s old studio in a medieval tower overlooking the grounds. In the mornings-when my mind was fresh-I would write, exploring a possible play about the sculptor Michelangelo. At lunchtime, I would gather in the company of my fellow authors and the occasional houseguest, for stimulating conversation and scrumptious pasta. My afternoons were usually devoted to reading; replenishing the well, as it were, with the works of my betters. A communal dinner would follow, and last well into the night, as together we recounted our authorial victories and our sorrows, inventoried our work for the day, and shared anecdotes about our respective lives. (Beatrice’s stories were always unabashedly the best; her circle or friends and broad range of experience could fill volumes.)
Santa Madelena did more than merely provide a comfortable environment for my ruminative scribblings. Beatrice was able to provide entrée to a host of invaluable academic institutions with research materials pertaining to my subject; her credibility gave me heightened access to incredible collections, and I was able to travel to Florence regularly and spend long hours pouring over rare books and monographs about Michelangelo and his circle. I was also able to confront the artist’s work in three dimensions for the first time; I saw the monolithic David; I visited the remarkable tomb of Pope Julius. In short, I was able to walk in the very footsteps forged by the intended protagonist of my incipient drama.
Santa Madelena belongs on the very short roster of artists’ colonies that exist solely to oblige and nurture their visitors: Yaddo, the MacDowell and Bellagio are all similar in spirit. They each offer artists encouragement and opportunity for growth by providing hospitable, gracious surroundings, requisite solitude and a quiet but pervasive air of industry. Beatrice asks nothing more of her charges than their attendance at meals and a serious commitment to writing. She doesn’t judge, coddle or interfere; she merely presides with immeasurable grace, a sympathetic ear, and profound respect.
Of course, no serious discussion of Santa Madelena can afford to omit its patron saint, Alice. To the novice visitor, she is a mere pug; Beatrice’s canine companion. But to the more perceptive among us, Alice is so much more. With her wobbly gait and pronounced resemblance to Queen Victoria, she ambles about the grounds with the insouciant air of one utterly comfortable with her high station in life. Recite a few lines of your latest verse, or share a dollop of the day’s prose, and Alice will offer a welcome, incisive critique; by rolling her watery brown eyes, perhaps, or cocking her head just so, her pink tongue protruding from her mouth at an inscrutable angle. She has inspired countless wayfarers; Beatrice’s guest book is cluttered with doggerel odes to Alice, cartoon sketches, and love paeans. In short, Alice is four-legged insurance against writer’s block. When inspiration fails, with a wag of her tail or the seductive wriggling of her prodigious back-end, Alice can always incite it.
It is my fervent hope that Beatrice’s remarkable sanctuary will continue to thrive, reap public and private funding, and allow future generations of American and European writers to benefit from her remarkable vision and largesse.
July 27, 2005