Dani Shapiro
March 18, 2009

On Sirenland

I’m writing from Positano, Italy. It’s early in the morning–very early–and room service coffee is on a tray in front of me. The windows are flung open to the balcony overlooking the staggeringly steep coastline and the sea. In the distance, my favorite islands. We are at Sirenland, the conference Michael and I started three years ago, along with our friend Hannah Tinti, editor of One Story.

Each year, I am amazed when we arrive here. We never set out to create something like this. It wasn’t a goal, or a dream, or even a faint ambition. It happened over dinner at a friend’s house in Connecticut a few years ago, when we met the owners of Le Sirenuse, and they asked if we’d like to bring a few writers over to Italy for a class. Those few writers have turned into this:

Jim Shepard and Peter Cameron are here, teaching workshops. Students are laughing and crying and learning–and staying up half the night in the bar, drinking tea and cognac. Bonding. Last night, one of them pulled out a guitar and began to sing. This year’s Rome Prize WinnersBrad Kessler and Dana Spiotta–are visiting from The American Academy. They gave a reading last night, and joined us for a few days.

How did this happen? The way the best things happen. By accident. Without agenda or motivation. It happened organically–built from the smallest seed of an idea–the way, come to think of it, fiction is written. By following the line of words.