Jessie Chaffee will be reading at DTN at  Greenlight Bookstore PLG on Thursday, March 15

Jessie Chaffee will be reading at DTN at Greenlight Bookstore PLG on Thursday, March 15

You spent time in Florence, Italy last year promoting your novel Florence in Ecstasy. What was that experience like?

It was incredibly meaningful to be back in the place that inspired the novel and to have the chance to thank the many people who helped me with the book during the year that I lived in Florence. I had the chance to present at bookstores, speak with book clubs, and also visit classes at NYU and Florence University of the Arts, where students were reading the novel—because my first experience with Florence was as a study-abroad student, speaking with young writers who were getting to know the city for the first time felt like coming full circle. 

I was there in December, which is one of my favorite times of year in Florence—lights go up all over the city, holiday markets spring up in piazzas, and the streets are filled with Italians who visit from elsewhere to do their holiday shopping. I love spotting the Babbo Natale dolls that children hang out their windows—they are Santas climbing rope ladders with their bundles on their backs. As a lifelong New Yorker, that version of Santa Claus makes a lot more sense to me than the one who comes down the chimney!

Wow, it's March. What's your favorite thing to do in New York in Spring? 

There’s nothing quite like the first few warm days in New York—there’s palpable energy in the city as people come out of hibernation, and just being outside around that energy is exciting. I love biking along the West Side bike path, so that’s one of the first thing I’ll do. 

What can people expect from your reading?

I’ll be reading one of the sections from Florence in Ecstasy that incorporates the stories of the Catholic women mystical saints. The book is set in Florence in the present day, but these women from the past are an integral part of it. They are fascinating. Many of them refused to adhere to the status quo—entering the church, claiming a direct relationship with God, writing about their ecstatic and often sensual visions, and speaking their minds were profound acts of strength and rebellion, especially in the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth centuries. And their experiences felt very relevant to the story that I was telling in the present about a contemporary woman who is similarly trying to find a different path and who, like the saints, is in some way at war with herself and her body. Researching the mystical saints was one of my favorite parts of writing the novel, and so I like sharing that aspect of the book when I read.


Photo by Jason Rice