Rachel Kushner is the author of two novels, The Flamethrowers, which was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award, the Folio Prize, the James Tait Black Prize, and a New York Times Top Five Novel of 2013, and Telex from Cuba, which was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award, a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, winner of the California Book Award and a New York Times bestseller. New Directions recently published a collection of Kushner’s early work, titled The Strange Case of Rachel K. Kushner’s fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s, and the Paris Review. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Howard D. Vursell Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters recognizing the quality of her prose style.
From The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner (Scribner, 2013)
It was through our conversations that I ended up wanting to go to the salt flats, but Sandro had his own ideas about roads and speed and land. He’d written a proposal when he was young, to make paintings by the yard to be laid out over the entire length of the Autostrada del Sole, which connected the north and the south of Italy. Practical and industrial methods in service for something of no use. The autostrada was built by the government with funding and encouragement from the Valera Company. Sandro had a photo of his father and the Italian prime minister standing together to celebrate its inauguration in 1956. Its name, Autostrada del Sole, made it sound hopeful in a fascist kind of way. Anything “of the sun,” Sandro said, was a code word for fascism. “My family helped ruin Italy,” he said, “by building this superhighway, Milan to Bologna to Florence to Rome to Naples, but it made us rich.” Sandro said highways primed us for a separation from place, from actual life. The autostrada replaced life with road signs and place names. A white background and black lettering. MILANO. A reduction, Sandro said, to nothing but names.
“No different than here,” I said. “You might as well deplore all highways.”
He conceded it was true, but said America was supposed to be a place ruined and homogenized by highways, that that was its unique character, crass and vulgar sameness.
“It’s your destiny,” he said, smiling, his eyes filling with cold light.
“What’s your destiny?” I replied.
“To become an American citizen, of course.”
Rachel Kushner, Group 3, 2016
Civitella Ranieri is an exquisite place to work. There is a grand feeling here of care-taking that is rare and stupendous and lucky. As if the goal of the staff, and the deeper spirit and mission of the place, is really and truly about the commitment to an environment that nurtures creation. The writers here were all shy types who needed much alone time, myself included, and this was deeply respected, and even encouraged, so that on long days of peaceful solitude, I felt I was doing what I was supposed to be doing here. My five weeks were some of the most productive of my life. And also, some of the most pleasurable, because of the warmth of the staff, the beauty of the countryside, and finally, the castle library, which offered chance encounters with books that shaped what I was doing in most helpful, and unforeseen ways.