In June 2019, I organized the third-in-a-row Writers Retreat in Tufo at my family’s house in Southern Italy. For ten days, we were six writers and one writer’s mother sharing workshops, pizzas, pasta, long walks, stories, songs, jokes, essays, chapters, books, short walks, bottles of wine, bottles of sunscreen, van-rides, boat-rides, bus-rides, dances, day-trips, and readings, but mostly pasta.
I hadn’t planned on the mother. Back in April when Maribel asked if she could bring her mother, Olga, I asked for a day or two to think about it. On the one hand Olga wasn’t a writer, and this was, welp, it’s a writer’s retreat. There was the integrity of this thing to think about. On the other hand I am always talking about community, about how far and away the best part of the last two retreats was the writers themselves–us–the familial tone we were able to strike. And well, what’s more familial than actual fam?
Of course I said yes, and I was dead right to do it. Olga was a whole joy to have in the house, sure, but it was more than that. Inviting Maribel to bring her mother along was the dead right thing to do because it was what the writers wanted.
Inclusion feels so gd good. I really struck gold this year with a group that was as committed to inclusion as to their writing, who right from the start went all-in on our lil famiglia. All-in like how Jordan bought Maribel’s book before he even met her, like how Julia and Nathan were planning out family dinners before they even saw the kitchen, ditto Olga, and like how Tony wore all his best rose shirts (and tattoos) to rep the house, Rosa. All-in on the famiglia thing like how Maribel called us all baby all the time, even over email, even before we even met. It was like I didn’t even have to make them love each other, like they did that all on their own. Here they all are.
(Oh! And stay tuned for details on WRIT20 in the new year! Avanti sempre, thanks fam.)
Maribel Garcia is the co-founder and managing editor of Book Club Babble. Her debut novel, Profound and Perfect Things, was published this past May (!) by She Writes Press. MERE DAYS after its release party she was on a plane to Tufo, to get started on her second. That’s Maribel–that commitment to forward movement, in her craft and her life. And her enthusiasm is infectious–on her first day in Tufo she had me making plans to expand the program, noting all the properties for sale in town, to fit more writers and more writers’ mothers. Stay tuned for WRIT Large in the summers to come 😉
We all met and bonded in this small town in the province of Avellino. A group of writers, vulnerable to each other, gradually accepting each others’ strengths and weakness…creating bonds that I am confident will last a life time. People and places leave deep imprints in our lives, you and Rosa di Tufo have made such an amazing experience/opportunity possible for us all. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart (which I kind of left in Rosa di Tufo) -Maribel
Jordan Calhoun is the co-owner and editor of Black Nerd Problems, and the author of dozens of pieces of hysterical, biting commentary on what it’s like to be, um, a black nerd. He came to Tufo to cheat on his diet (vacation meat!), show us all exactly how Drops of Jupiter was MEANT to be sung, and zero in on his first book, tentatively (and incredibly) titled, Piccolo is Black. Look out for it, it will be a thing.
Man, that was such a charmed week together! I sincerely made countless life memories with you all; thanks for being awesome. Thanks for all of your thoughtfulness, humor, support, vulnerabilities, and all the fun I got to have with each of you. Can’t wait to follow all your careers and to think back on that trip in 2019 and say, Yeah, that’s my friend, we actually workshopped together in Italy. Tufo was an unforgettable experience. I find myself with a richer manuscript, 10,000 words deeper, thanks to 5 amazing writers who I’m glad to call friends. -Jordan
Tony Ho Tran is a freelance writer and journalist. He’s landed essays in places like The Huffington Post and Playboy, and he came to Tufo to get to work on what will either be his first long-form memoir or novel, or maybe something in between. It deals in the immigrant experience and generational trauma, and features one bike-thief character who I still think about way more than I expected to. Tony said yes to pretty much everything Tufo had to offer, including seconds of pasta and thirds of grappa, and the chance to form a two-man, guitar-only band with Angelo, Tufo the Road.
I say this with no hesitation: My experience in Tufo and WRIT changed the way I approach writing. To be able to immerse yourself in Rosa di Tufo and disappear into your writing–all the while surrounded by intelligent, thoughtful, and uniquely creative individuals–is incredible. You’ll find yourself a better writer and a few more friends richer as a result (not to mention a bigger waistline from all the delicious food). -Tony
Julia Love is a correspondent for Reuters out of Mexico City. She came to Tufo to reengage with a memoir project she hadn’t touched in years, and reengage with it she did. I’m not supposed to say this out loud, but my favorite workshops were Julia’s. She has a natural ear, so her writing is beautiful on the line, but I most appreciated the way she wrestled with what all writers of memoir wrestle with–that nagging feeling that her story wasn’t worthwhile. Watching her shake that off a few days into the retreat and produce some new, quality content on a decade-old project inspired me shake off a little bit of my own bullshit, so big thanks to Julia for that.
Traveling to Rosa di Tufo is one of the best things I have done for myself and my writing in a long, long time. As my flight to Italy approached, I felt a bit anxious. I struggle to balance writing with the demands of work and daily life, and I wondered whether I would be able to find my voice again in Tufo. I shouldn’t have worried. The group you assembled was a perfect mix of talents and dispositions, and everyone felt like family from the first. Inspiration is all around in Tufo, where goats wander the streets and fireflies flicker up from the fields by night. We quickly settled into a routine of quiet mornings writing, mid-day workshops and afternoons exploring, with Greco di Tufo (the local white wine) always flowing. I’m proud of the pages I produced, but best of all was the conviction I found that I have a story worth telling and the tools to do so. It took this warm, talented community of writers, and a desk with a view, to get there. -Julia
I could go on and on about our workshop leader, Nathan Alling Long, so I will. He teaches creative writing at Stockton University, he’s got over a hundred published pieces of fiction under his belt, and his latest book, The Origin of Doubt, was a 2019 finalist for a mf Lambda Literary Award. He’s spent a lot of the last year working on his first novel, and he did a bit of that in Tufo, but mostly he gave his time over to baking our bread, making way too many dad jokes, and preparing and leading our workshops. The workshops felt special this year: Nathan spent about an hour and a half on each of our submissions, led us through some unexpected exercises to produce new content, squeezed in a bonus revision-focused workshop, and led us each in our own writer-specific DREAM WORKSHOP, which was unlike any exercise I’ve ever done and was actually unforgettable, and about which I am sworn to secrecy, so if you want to know more either show up to WRIT20 or become best friends with Nathan. What I am trying to say is the retreat owes a huge amount of its success to Nathan, and he’s got a room in Rosa for life.
Everyone you selected for the retreat was so gifted, both as writers and as human beings, an instant family that worked and went on adventures together. How great to have no car–except for the communal van–no internet, no huge supermarket or tourist shops. What is not there is as valuable as what is in letting writers settle into the pace of life that allows us to read, write, share ideas and book titles, cook for each other, play games and music, and sit around the table, meal after meal, and talk. -Nathan
PS and this is totally just bonus material at this point, but I couldn’t not leave it for you here. It turns out Olga was a writer the whole time. Or maybe it was just that we put her in the mood? She journaled all through Tufo in the form of this long, unprompted, sort-of letter to the rest of us, and on the last night of the retreat Maribel translated it from Spanish and read it to us, right there at the dinner table, and guys it is the sweetest thing in the world. Here’s whole gooey thing ❤
I’m on a vacation with some writers and with my daughter, who is also a writer. They tell me, “Olga, you also have to write,” and I answer, “I cannot, I do not write books.” To begin with, I do not have a fraction of their studies, but I can write about my experiences on this trip. The first day we dined in a restaurant that is located atop an old medieval castle, which has been here for many centuries, and thanks to Patricio’s networks, we know a little bit about everything. For example, today we met some wonderful friends at a place called El Mefite. It is a sacred place, unique in the world, a mystical place of sulfuric waters. They say that the sulfur here is both healing and deadly. If one stays there for at least two hours and breathes, it is healing, but if one were to drink, like some of the many animals surrounding the site, they would die.
We also were able to go to a working goat farm where goat cheese is made. They gave us a tour and also showed us, step by step, how to make the goat cheese. The cheese was delicious and now I want to go home and try to replicate the recipe.
We also had the opportunity to travel by train and boat in order to get to the Amalfi Coast, there the water was absolutely stunning. The beaches are made up of gravel, not sand. I had never heard or seen anything like this, so this made it all more interesting.
One night we had dinner in a restaurant, high on a mountain top, the highest point on the mountain and it was absolutely gorgeous. From this view you could see the lovely village down below, especially because there was a monastery lit up in honor of San Antonio’s celebration. Seeing the beautiful lights inspired Patricio to drive us to the festivities and there we had a great time. We danced with the locals.
The home where we stayed, our dearest Rosa di Tufo, sits by the nearby Sabato River. I will always cherish the memories of hanging out in our beautiful room where two beautiful French windows open up to the garden and the river. Every night, the water’s melodious rushing was like a lullaby that lulled us all to sleep.
Patricio also took us downtown to Naples, where we were able to get a tour of the underground aqueducts in downtown Naples.
People here in Tufo are really wonderful and sweet. They treat you with love and kindness, always inviting people over for dinner and making you feel at home. I also love walking around this very tranquil village day and night, where you can walk alone at all hours of the day and night and always feel safe. What is even more beautiful is that this village has a beautiful and interesting history and architecture everything is spectacular, and I give thanks to God for my health, and I give thanks that I am able to do what I like, thanks to my very supportive husband who understands and excepts me the way I am–as someone who loves to travel, without his company. That said, even though I love traveling by myself, I do miss my family, but I love that they support me in all of my goals and ambitions and especially making all of my traveling dreams come true.
I was born and raised in a very rural ranch in Northern Mexico and was only able to study up till 6th grade. I had always wanted more. I have been, however, a very avid reader, since I was 7, when I learned to read.
My desire to travel comes from having already traveled many worlds through books. I never imagined that I would be doing everything that I have been able to do. Sometimes my life feels like a fairytale.
One of the best parts of this trip has been the wonderful group that Patricio put together. Everyone had made me feel so loved, nurtured and protected. At no single time has anybody ever left me out of the group, even though my age and my differences of language and culture are so different. I am so thankful that I have spent my vacation with these beautiful human beings. These beautiful excursions and adventures would not have been the same.
This trip has been so wonderful for me and I have felt so protected by everyone at not a single moment have I ever felt outside the group, either because of the differences of language or culture. I’m so immensely grateful to have spent my vacations, the most beautiful vacations of my life with such a wonderful group. You all have made the experience unforgettable.
Nathan, thank you so much for all the attention. Thank you for all of those lovely meals, especially that freshly baked bread that was so darn delicious.
Patricio, thank you for being such a wonderful and gracious host and for all the wonderful attention and all the love and kindness that you showed to me. I will never forget it.
Julia, thank you for always being my translator and for talking to me and conversing with me as if I was your equal.
Tony thank you for always being so kind and attentive with me.
Jordan I will always be grateful for how you protected me on our daily excursions. You always mad me feel safe and protected.
Maribel, my daughter, thank you for making this trip possible and sharing such a beautiful experience.
I wish everyone the absolute best and I hope everyone has much success in everything that you do.
I love you very much.