Living at the American Academy in Rome allowed me many mornings of solitude and work. My quiet studio in the Casa Rustica gave me the daily privacy I require in order to write. My in-progress novel needed these consecutive, focused days. The pages piled up and for that I am grateful. But the Academy also offered me a very interesting and supportive community of artists and scholars from various disciplines. I found the afternoons and evenings I spent in their company helped my work progress in unexpected ways. I believe the experiment of the Academy works so well because we always have a subject before us: Rome. There were the many lectures by fellows and residents. I found these almost entirely fascinating, provoking odd (perhaps unintended) juxtapositions and wonderful moments of inspiration. But it was the casual interactions that I found to be even more helpful and compelling. The talks at dinner or lunch after the lectures could be even more interesting than the lectures themselves. I liked the studio visits when visual artists would generously share their work with me. I liked the dinners where I would sometimes sit next to an architect and listen to him describe his work. I liked listening to what the composers had on their itunes libraries. I liked the informal walks and museum visits in the company of the scholars. I loved hearing what people thought of a building, a painting, a movie. Everyone answered my weird, solipsistic writer queries with good humor and patience. Sometimes you can use the vocabulary and concerns of another discipline to see your own with more clarity and depth. My current and future work can only benefit from having heard my colleagues at the American Academy discuss their own ideas and the ideas of others. The diversity of thoughts and points of view – which generated some fascinating clashes from time to time – and the gorgeous multeity of the always-waiting city down the hill were welcome counters to my mornings alone.
Dana Spiotta is the author of the novel Lightning Field, a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. Her second novel, Eat the Document, was a 2006 National Book Award Finalist and was awarded the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, her other honors include a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship and the Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize, a gift of the Drue Heinz Trust/American Academy of Arts and Letters, at the American Academy in Rome.