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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Adriana Trigiani speaks about her life & work

Southwest Virginia’s Adriana Trigiani
Southwest Virginia’s Adriana Trigiani

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | June 26, 2018

Southwest Virginia’s Adriana Trigiani is beloved by millions of readers around the world for her bestselling novels. Her themes of love and work, emphasis on craftsmanship and family life have brought her legions of fans who call themselves “Adri-addicts.” USA Today calls her “the reigning queen of women’s fiction.” The New York Times says she’s “a comedy writer with a heart of gold,” and her books are “tiramisu for the soul.” Her books have been translated in 36 countries around the world.

She wrote and directed the film adaptation of her debut novel “Big Stone Gap,” which she shot in her hometown. She is currently directing a new movie, “Love Me To Death,” starring Kathie Lee Gifford and Craig Ferguson.

She is coming to Abingdon this month to speak at a fundraiser for the Friends of the Washington County Public Library and to teach at the Virginia Highlands Festival’s Writers’ Day.

She took time out of her schedule to talk to us about her life and work.

A! Magazine for the Arts: How does growing up in Big Stone Gap influence you and your work?

Trigiani: The place you grow up has a profound impact on what you care about and how you decide to spend your time as an adult. My life in Big Stone Gap is so very obvious in my career choices. I loved to read, and luckily, we had the bookmobile and the public library and the school libraries, which were an embarrassment of riches to a hungry reader. There was a lot of theater to see at the Barter, Clinch Valley College (now U.Va. Wise); the Big Stone Gap Music Study Club’s annual musical and, of course, the “Trail of the Lonesome Pine Outdoor Drama.”

I was also aware that it took some time to drive places, that we were in a part of the state that was a challenge to get to they were talking about putting in roads when we moved here in the late 1960s, and they’re still talking about the need for roads. Perhaps less now than back then, but it’s an ongoing discussion nonetheless. But that may be what I like best about small town life: the illusion that things don’t really seem to change over time. A visit home is a balm, a comfort, in this weary world. When I was in my grandmother’s hometown in Italy last December, an old family friend said, “Everything changes but the mountains.” How true.

A! Magazine for the Arts: Tell us about the importance of family to you and in your work.

Trigiani: I find as life goes on, I think a lot about my parents and growing up. This is part of being a parent, so much of it is guesswork, and the rest is rock solid belief in a set of values that you got that’s right, from your parents. So, when they pass on to their great reward, it’s time to think about what you believe in and what formed those beliefs. The core value I received from my parents was faith a faith built on a personal relationship with God.

I remain a Roman Catholic. My husband and I raised our daughter in the faith, in a large part due to the way I was raised in Southwest Virginia in the small but devout Catholic community led by the Glenmary order of priests and nuns, and the Irish sisters, The Poor Servants of God, who ran Saint Mary’s Hospital in Norton. Sister Bernie Kenney who founded the Saint Mary’s Health Wagon, which now is called The Health Wagon, is a modern saint. She brought medicine up into the mountains to the folks who needed it the most.

So you see, I can’t really separate faith and family. And I hope that my parents know that where they are now. I would also like to add that some of my happiest memories were spent in some of the great churches my friends attended: Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian well, I could keep going. I have wonderful memories of the Seder supper we did every year at Saint Anthony’s with the only Jewish family in our neck of the woods. I had a pretty diverse experience in matters of faith.

A! Magazine for the Arts: You seem to come home to Southwest Virginia more frequently. Why?

Trigiani: The Origin Project brings me home, and of course, visits with my mom were important. I have the same friends I had when I was 6, and as time goes on, I treasure them even more. So, visits home are essential. I am lucky that I travel a lot, but there’s nothing like home.

A! Magazine for the Arts: Which came first writing or acting? Was it a difficult transition?

Trigiani: There are no transitions in art, just states of being. In the beginning was the word, and so, despite how writers are often treated, I always believed writing to be a sacred act. Acting was something I was never good at, but enjoyed because I understood being a part of a larger group, such as it was in my family.

Turns out that I needed to know how to act in order to be able to direct, so my experience as an actor helped me become a director. I love actors because they are the instruments of the orchestra they tell the story the writer has put into words. They dramatize the text with emotion and physicality, with thought and connectivity and hopefully scope. They take such risks they have to be vulnerable in their work and fearless in their choices. It’s a hard life and I understand it, which helps me when I direct.

It’s my job to serve the actor and to place their performances in the scene, as part of the whole, so the audience understands the point, the meaning, the pith and the heart of the story. I give the actors a safe space to bring their gifts into the process.

A! Magazine for the Arts: You have a varied career. What are some of the highlights and why are they important to you?

Trigiani: The highlights are small moments, ones that wouldn’t translate to this interview. I’ve had to work hard every step of the way. I have never been someone who got that lucky break and then coasted. It was a fight from the start and will be a fight to the finish. But, I have learned, especially now that both my parents are gone, that I have nothing to prove. I am a humble servant to my reader and when creating something for the theater or screen, a humble servant to the audience. I have one purpose: to entertain you and lift your spirits. Now, in this regard, I like to go to deep emotional places, and deal with complex themes.

I’m from working people who were artistic and creative, who could make something beautiful from nothing or as the great journalist Dino Panofilo said of my grandparents’ people from the Italian Alps, “The people of these mountains are clever, and they never give up.” I believe you can say that very thing about the people of Appalachia.

A! Magazine for the Arts: Is writing your favorite artistic form or is it acting/directing or something else? Do you prefer comedy, romance or drama?

Trigiani: I love all of it. And, at this stage of life, I’m interested in telling the stories that illuminate the beauty of life and why love matters and why truth should prevail. As someone who writes historical fiction, I am a defender of the small town newspaper and journalists. I am very worried about the dangerous blather regarding freedom of speech. However, as we all know, the truth always comes out; it might take some time, but sit tight, it always comes out.

A! Magazine for the Arts: Tell us about the new directing job that was just announced. Will you have a role in shaping the script? Did you know Kathie Lee Gifford and Craig Ferguson before getting this job?

Trigiani: Yes, I knew Kathie Lee through friends and through appearances on the Today Show. I met Craig through Kathie Lee. Kathie asked me to direct a script she wrote after her husband died. It’s about being a widow and living through those changes, and making a new life. I’m in Scotland as I write this, directing the movie. We commence principal photography in a couple of days, so I have been here preparing for it with a glorious group of artisans. I am very much at home with the beautiful Scots as they remind me of home of Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee; and as they ask me about Appalachia. They know about you and are proud of the connection.

Trigiani directing new movie in Scotland

Topics: Film