“Randolph-Macon was so divine, with the wisteria and cherry trees in bloom. I had just never seen anything like it. I fell in love with the land around there.” Frances Mayes ’62
When Frances Mayes ’62, best-selling author of Under the Tuscan Sun, returned to the College in March to serve as the Lynchburg Reads speaker, she took advantage of the trip to collect material for her newest book, a memoir about growing up in the South.
Mayes attended Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in the late 1950s. “I still remember very fondly both years I went there,” she said. “That’s one reason I wanted to come back to Randolph-Macon, because I’m sure that will be part of my new book.”
Growing up in rural Georgia, Mayes’ family’s roots were firmly planted in the South. Lynchburg was a foreign land. “Virginia was about as far north as anyone in my family could conceive of,” she said. “Randolph-Macon was so divine, with the wisteria and cherry trees in bloom. I had just never seen anything like it. I fell in love with the land around there.”
Last month, Mayes was the featured author for the Lynchburg Reads program. The program, run through the Lynchburg Public Library System, chooses an author to highlight each year. Randolph sponsored the 2011 event.
The return to Lynchburg was the first in decades for Mayes, who transferred to the University of Florida to complete her undergraduate degree. From there, she moved to California to earn her master’s degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University. After graduation, she stayed at the university as a creative writing professor and director of The Poetry Center.
In academic circles, Mayes is known for her book, The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems, which is used often in college poetry classes. And she has published many poems, essays, and a travel memoir. However, she is widely known for her best selling memoirs, Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany, which detail her experiences renovating a dilapidated Tuscan farmhouse while living in Italy. Her latest book, Every Day in Tuscany, was published in 2010.
Mayes felt it was time to return to her roots for her newest project. “I lived in San Francisco forever and moved back to the South four years ago,” she said. Mayes and her husband, Edward, a poet, now split their time between homes in Italy—where she does most of her writing—and Durham, North Carolina. “I’ve always felt a very powerful connection with the Southern landscape, and there’s still a sense of community, particularly in small towns. I very much like the connection.”
While visiting Randolph, Mayes was reminded of the influence the College had on her. “It was very expanding for me,” she said. “The girls I met there were very smart. And it certainly opened my eyes to much more of a kind of feminist perspective than I had ever been offered before. It helped me learn to take myself seriously.”