On the Writers Residency in Tufo, 2017

Some reflections on the 2017 Writers Residency in Tufo

One of my favorite things to do is to share a thing I’m excited about. I think it’s why I took to writing in the first place—that impulse to hold up a pretty/ugly/funny/sad/etc. thing and say: guys, look what I found.

It was in this spirit I left my job of six years to open up a bed and breakfast in Tufo, in the house my grandfather was born in. The house is pink so we call her Rosa. She’s three stories tall with a hundred to tell, and she looks out over farm fields and sunsets, and Tufo itself is so sweet and old and off-the-beaten-path that after a few days all you want to say is: guys, guys, guys, look.

Writers are by nature observational—we love to have a look. So it was with all the above in mind that I founded the Writers Residency in Tufo. The idea being to invite a handful of writers out to the house to fill it up and be filled up by it, and by the town, the region, the food, the wine, and to see whether or not I could make a recurring thing of it. Those writers stayed for two weeks, they left yesterday, and, yea, I think it’s going to be a thing.

Quick catch-up for the lay-person: in the world of writers and artists, residency programs exist to provide spaces to work away from home, away from the routine that can bog us down. Distance to clear your head. Hopefully packaged into the deal is inspiration in the form of the place itself, and also drawn from the other writers you share that place with.

codacchio after storm

I’m really happy with writers we had this June, and with the balance we were able to strike. Besides myself, we had a poet, a fiction writer, a memoirist, and an animator/screenwriter, and all the different perspectives, backgrounds and visions tended to percolate over the dinners, which tended to kill. Check out the full roster here. Added bonus was our unofficial sixth man—nineteen year-old songwriting phenom Donovan Moore, cousin of mine and heir to the house. We jammed and freestyled to his guitar after meals, and sang and workshopped the lyrics during day trips.

The day trips! We covered Pompeii, Naples, Positano. We hit a local monastery at the top of Montevirgine, the highest peak in Irpinia. For Capri we teamed up with an Italian free-diving team to rent a pair of little rubber boats and circle the island with snorkels all day. We checked our watches from the surface and watched the free divers go down forty, sixty, one hundred feet, spears in hand, looking for fish, two, three minutes at a time, no tank. Fitzgerald said that’s all there is to writing, or good writing at least: swimming underwater and holding your breath. The point being, though, about all the day trips, is that Tufo is so accessible to so much that in the end we had to pass on a few just to keep the focus on the work at hand.

pompei panorama

But maybe what I’m most happy about is that, by the end of the residency, the unanimous favorite among the writers wasn’t Positano or Capri, but the little nowhere town of Tufo. There’s a kind of familial magic to the town, and I’m jazzed the writers got to dip into that. Some examples: line-dancing at the bar down the street; making limoncello with Virginia; karaoke at the bar down the street; visiting, over and over again, the four hundred-year old cantina up the hill and under the castle, Cantine Di Marzo; rescuing a kitten from an abandoned house; eating. The meals we attended sprawled on for hours at a time, and were about more than the food: we had a jam-session/barbecue with Angelo up the hill; ate cinghiale in a cave—wild boar, shot by Giuseppe last year; and had a five-hour, eleven course lunch with Zia Eda, the ninety-eight year old woman from Codacchio, who once upon a time was going to marry my great uncle Antonio, and who afterward sang for us over coffee.

It was a full two weeks. We balanced out all we did with long mornings and full days at a time in the house, writing. Steven King says to write with the door closed, and since there’s no internet in the house, when you’re here, you’re here. No distractions. Or, almost—there’s a ping pong table, and now a kitten in the garden.

me and irpinia below

On our last night I asked the writers for advice going into next year. What did you like, what would you like, that kind of thing. The consensus was that most of it we got right, but really, the writers kept bouncing it back onto me: you’re the boss, Pat, what do you want it to be? Heavier on the experiences, or on the actual writing? More structure? Less pasta? I thought about it and I have a few ideas, but really, what I want is pretty close to the residency I went ahead and founded, one shot one kill.

I really like that word, by the way. It means made but it sounds like found, and it feels a lot like what we ended up doing with WRiT, half finding, half making, mezza mezza.

Guys, guys, look what I founded.

Patrick McNeil is the founder of the WRiT, and long-time organizer of the Backyard Writers Workshop.His fiction has appeared in Eclectica Magazine, Apiary Magazine, The Head and the Hand Vending Machine Chapbook Series, and elsewhere.