The Mark Blog

Bookmark This: A Writer's Room

Ever wonder where your favorite novels were penned? The New York Times explores the rooms where Jonathan Lethem, Julian Barnes, Jhumpa Lahiri, Edwidge Danticat, Richard Dawkins, and Jesmyn Ward write.

Here's Jhumpa Lahiri's excerpt from the article:

In spite of the chandelier the room feels quite plain. It’s brightest in the mornings, when I tend to write. The desk belonged to the cardiologist of a former pope. The stones and shells along the windowsill are from Puglia. Two of the postcards are images of female figures from Mycenae. The third is a portion of a fresco by an unknown artist in the Villa Farnesina, in Rome. It depicts a balcony overlooking a city. An alternate version of what I see.

I sit at the desk to type. Otherwise I sit on the sofa, to write by hand or read. When I read and write in Italian various items surround me: dictionaries, a pen, notebooks in which I jot down unfamiliar words and constructions.

The desk faces the Alban Hills, the Apennines. The terrace, just beyond the doors, gives onto a sweep of time and space, from the Forum and the Palatine all the way to EUR, a neighborhood that Mussolini conceived. I see the Gasometro in Ostiense, the crooked ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, Jesus and the saints on the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano.

When we were shown the apartment, the room was used for dining. But I knew right away that I wanted to work here. On occasion, in the afternoons, when the sun begins to set, I move out onto the terrace, where there is a bench and a small plaque etched with a line from Dante, to read over some pages. But I need to be inside the room to write.

For many years I had a map of ancient Rome hanging in assorted apartments in Boston, where I wrote most of the stories in my first book. This was nearly 20 years ago, when I’d only read and heard about Italy, before I’d ever come to Rome. Now I live here, with the city spread before me. It still feels unreal. When I’m working, I’m more aware of the sky than of the city. I look at clouds, at seagulls. It’s almost like being at sea.