THE CREATIVE WORLD OF AUTHOR ELIZABETH GEOGHEGAN
We continue our “Travel and Literature” series * featuring the extraordinary collection “Other latitudes” by Nordica publisher, which includes titles by O. Henry, Steinbeck, Ali Smith, Plath, and Tolstoi. This book collection keeps growing with new additions. Recently, they have published Eightball, a group of eight impactful stories written by Elizabeth Geoghegan that unfold across Italy, Bali, and the US.
Elizabeth Geoghegan was born in New York, grew up in the Midwest, and lives in Rome. She is also the author of the short story collection Natural Disasters and the bestselling memoir The Marco Chronicles: to Rome, without love. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, The Best Travel Writing, TIME, and El Pais.
Today we have the honor of interviewing Elizabeth and speaking with her about her passion for travel and photography, her favorite childhood reads, and her recommendations for those visiting her beloved Rome.
World Kids: You were born in New York, grew up in the Midwest, and currently live in Rome. Where do you feel most at home?
Elizabeth Geoghegan: Rome is my base; it always feels like coming home whenever I return here after spending time abroad. Having lived in Italy for so many years, I feel more comfortable here than I do anywhere in the United States. But I also feel “at home” while traveling. I like settling into a routine in a new place, even if it just for a few days in an unknown place. I also love returning to cities and countries where I have traveled before, returning to what had, even briefly, been a favorite café or neighborhood.
You define yourself as a traveler, and your stories are an invitation to wander and get lost in Bali, Seattle, Paris, Chicago, Bangkok, or Rome. All these places play an essential role in your stories. How important is traveling for your creative world?
Traveling has turned out to be a crucial part of my creative process. To me, place is a protagonist in my work – as important (and sometimes unpredictable) as my main characters. Many of the locations you’ve mentioned, I’ve lived in for years at a time – Seattle, Chicago for example, but it took moving to Rome for me to be able to see those places clearly. I needed distance. This is true for other places that I’ve traveled to, as well. I don’t take notes or necessarily have story ideas while I am traveling, in a sense it all feels like research but without a specific agenda. Then, later a certain image or character will emerge connected to that place. For the stories in eightball, I wanted my characters to feel like outsiders, but I needed to be confident that I knew the setting well enough to recreate it on the page, so the descriptions and sensory details would feel accurate.
I feel we share a common passion for travel journals, yoga, sand beaches, and photography. Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?
How marvelous that so many of these things resonate for you. In one way or another, I suppose each item you mentioned has had a role in inspiring me, but it is easier to draw a direct line between photography and fiction. In spite of my best intentions, I don’t tend to maintain a journal or write much while traveling, so I keep a visual diary with photographs that I can fall back on later. Photography has long influenced the way I approach storytelling and frame my narratives. I have always loved photography’s capacity to capture so much intensity within a small frame and this is something I like to experiment with in a formal sense in my writing. Photography has also inspired me to create a few of my characters – the protagonist in “Tree Boy,” Billy in “The Violet Hour”, and Quinn in “eightball” for example. In these stories you can see the way photography guides the narrative unfolding.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to write. I was an early reader and by age six I was already writing stories and telling my family I wanted to write books.
Are there any particular authors or books that influenced you growing up? Did you have a favorite book from your childhood?
So many, of course. From very far back, I recall the Eloise books –which had marvelous illustrations and a very precocious protagonist. My family lived in New York when I was young, and the fictional Eloise lived at The Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. There was even a portrait of her in The Plaza and sometimes my grandmother would take us to have tea “with Eloise.” I suppose that was an early brush with a literary character and the way a real location can become a fictional one in the imagination of a writer.
You’ve taught dozens of writing workshops in Rome. What is your best advice for aspiring authors?
One of the first things students often say is, “I like to write, but I’m not really a writer …” And I always tell them that they need to give themselves “permission” to write. They must give themselves permission and begin to think of themselves as writers – at least for the time that they are in the workshop. It’s a simple shift in perspective, but it works. Beyond that, I encourage young writers to consider writing to be a “distance sport” – it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Give yourself time – both to produce new material and to revise.
What books are you currently reading?
I just finished Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson, an American writer who is also based here in Rome. It is a marvelous debut novel that I highly recommend.
Next up is Yoga by Emmanuel Carrère. Interestingly, Carrère’s French publisher calls it a novel, but subsequently the American publisher considers it to be biography or memoir, while the Library of Congress lists it as an autobiography. I have heard so much about this book and I am really looking forward to it.
What are you working on now? Can you tell us a little bit about your subsequent work?
During the pandemic, truth felt stranger than fiction, and I began working on personal essays, which hopefully will become a collection. More recently, I’ve begun writing about my 10-year friendship with my mentor Lucia Berlin, who died in 2004 and became a “literary sensation” eleven years later.
What places would you recommend to those wanting to explore the Trastevere as locals?
Trastevere has completely different faces at different times of the day. There is a lovely neighborhood feeling in the mornings when locals are stopping at the corner bar for an espresso or picking up vegetables at the green market. But the vibe is always changing. A arrow alleyway that was quiet and dreamy can be crowded and noisy in the evening with a throng of people enjoying an aperitivo or queueing for a trattoria.
A couple things I recommend in Trastevere: making a trip through the Villa Farnesina to see the Raphael frescoes and visiting the Galleria Corsini just across the street – both little jewels that are somewhat off the radar. I also love spending an afternoon in the Orto Botanico, especially in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
* Please remember this section is for adult literature. For recommendations of travel books for children, please visit WorldKids- Inspiration.