I am at Yaddo writing a novel about the messiness of love. Yaddo is an artist colony in Sarasota Springs, New York. I have been here for a month. I write every day, I walk in the woods, and before I go to bed each night I read a story from a collection of love stories titled My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead.
Desperation and fear of inauthenticity have long been a part of my writerly identity, and maybe every writer’s identity. With that mix, I had long wanted to come to Yaddo on a residency.
The real writers who have been here in the past include Eudora Welty, Philip Roth, James Baldwin, and Flannery O’Connor. The wooden stairs outside my room lead to a studio above where Sylvia Plath wrote poems during a productive 11-week stay. If I didn’t already have my own characters for a story about love, I could as easily have written of my love for the writers who have been at Yaddo.
Downstairs, beside the piano in the living room, hangs a framed statement by the writer John Cheever from a meeting in September, 1968. Cheever’s text begins: “The forty or so acres on which the studios and principal buildings of Yaddo stand have seen more distinguished activity in the arts than any other piece of ground in the English-speaking community or perhaps in the entire world.”
He goes on to list what he has witnessed at Yaddo: “Lushes down on their luck, men and women at the top of their powers, nervous breakdowns, thieves, geniuses, cranky noblemen, and poets who ate their peas off a knife.” I’m so struck by the witty construction of that sentence that, for a moment, I forget to ask if that description holds true for the present bunch here.
The Bookist is a monthly column
From HT Brunch, July 12
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