USA | 2000, 2008, 2016
Edmund White is the author of many books that are widely translated, including the acclaimed biography Jean Genet, his fiction includes the early landmark trilogy beginning with A Boy’s Own Story. His more recent novels include Forgetting Elena, Nocturnes for the King of Naples, and The Married Man, as well as a study of Proust. He is an Officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and teaches at Princeton University. He lives in New York City and returned to Santa Maddalena in 2008.
I had a wonderful peaceful five weeks in the tower at Santa Maddalena. I’m working on a memoir about New York in the 1970s called A Stranger’s Sojourn; when I arrived in Tuscany I had written 20 pages and when I left I’d done 200. Plus I’d written two short stories! It is a strangely inspiring place, where the days are very very long and one can work in two or even three sessions during the day and still have time left over for reading –and socializing at lunch and dinner. Before I came to Santa Maddalena I was frustrated with my work and unable to get on with it. Once I arrived I fell into a very good rhythm. Not to mention that all the writers who come to the house, even if for just a weekend, provide such lovely and stimulating company. I spent time with Zadie Smith and Adam Thirlwell and Barbara Trapido and many others.
I am writing you after just two weeks at Santa Maddalena–thank heaven I have two more weeks to go! As you know, often a writer’s career can come to overshadow the actual art of writing. Before you rescued me, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. My new novel, The Married Man, was just launched in England by Chatto & Windus and will come out in the States on June 1st, published by Knopf. I toured in England for this book and must tour some eighteen cities in America for a month throughout June.
Luckily the Foundation has given me this precious time now, time to do nothing but write, read and reflect in an atmosphere of perfect calm imbued by the genius of Gregor von Rezzori, whose work I so much admire. For once I am not hassled by a thousand phone calls or appointments with reporters and photographers and students.
I am currently sketching out four talks, the Clarendon Lectures, which I will deliver in Oxford in October and which will then be published by the Oxford Press. I’m also putting the finishing touches on The Flaneur, a book about walking through the history and paradoxes of Paris, which Bloomsbury will publish next spring. And I’ve written entirely during my stay here a very long essay for Granta about psychiatry, which will be published before the end of the year.
The house is full not only with the spirit of Gregor von Rezzori (I’ve read two of his books here) and of Bruce Chatwin (I’ve looked at both biographies, which both mention Chatwin’s extraordinary productivity here); it is also still humming with the recent visit of Colm Toibin, the great Irish novelist, and of Victor Erofeev, the Russian whose books I’m reading now. And just before them, Anita Desai, the Indian novelist, and her promising daughter were in residence–what an auspicious and extraordinary confluence of international talent!
The foundation must go on. It is much quieter and more conducive to concentration and work than the other colonies I’ve visited–the Rockefeller villa at Bellagio and Yaddo in New York. And here, unlike the American Foundations at Bellagio and Bogliasco (where I’m a member of the Selection Committee), one is much more likely to meet Italians, not to mention other non-Americans.
Please continue the good work. I can think of no more fitting monument to Gregor, nor a better gift to a whole new generation of writers from around the world.