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Alumna shines on screen 'Under The Tuscan Sun'

September 23, 2003

Image of movie poster for "Under The Tuscan Sun" featuring a photo of actor Diane LaneCritics are calling it "smart, sexy and fun," but for SFSU alumna and former creative writing Professor Frances Mayes, it's life.

On Sept. 26, Touchstone Pictures presents "Under The Tuscan Sun," a romantic adventure that stars Academy Award nominee Diane Lane as Mayes. Based on Mayes' best-selling memoir of the same name, the movie is about taking chances and starting a new life.

While teaching in SFSU's Creative Writing Department in 1990, widely published poet and travel writer Mayes took a sabbatical leave and bought an abandoned villa in Cortona, Italy. Using vivid prose, Mayes describes in sensuous detail her daily adventures restoring the house, cooking pasta in a 200-year-old kitchen and sampling wines. The book, "Under The Tuscan Sun: At Home In Italy," was published in 1996 and since then has been translated into 14 languages. More than one million copies have been sold.

Photo of Frances Mayes"Under The Tuscan Sun" was followed by "Bella Tuscany," also an international best seller. In 2000, she wrote "In Tuscany," a collaborative photo-text with Bob Krist and her husband, poet Edward Mayes. All three books are about taking chances, the pleasures of food and living the "voluptuousness of Italian life."

After receiving her master of arts in English and creative writing from SFSU in 1975, Mayes went on to teach in the Creative Writing Department, joining the ranks of the department's such renowned faculty as Wright Morris, Kay Boyle, Molly Giles and Gina Berriault. During her years on the faculty, Mayes was also the director of The Poetry Center and department chair.

"Frances was first and foremost an imaginative poet who had amazing imagery," said Maxine Chernoff, the current chair. Chernoff also remembers Mayes as a hard working administrator, mentor and good friend who excelled at everything she did.

SFSU's Creative Writing Department is one of the oldest and most respected in the country, boasting graduates that include best-selling authors Anne Rice, Po Bronson and Ernest Gaines. Over the years, students of fiction, poetry and playwriting have benefited from the mentorship of actively publishing faculty and visiting writers. Each year the highly competitive program receives more than 500 student applications for just 100 openings.

Mayes now devotes herself full time to writing and divides her time between her home in San Francisco and Cortona, Italy. Mayes has written five books of poetry, most recently "Ex Voto," published in January 2000. Her previous books of poetry are "Sunday in Another Country," "After Such Pleasures," "The Arts of Fire" and "Hours." She is also the author of "The Discovery of Poetry," a textbook that is widely used in college courses. Her first novel, "Swan," was published in October 2002.

-- Matt Itelson with Public Affairs Student Writer Audrey Tang








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Last modified September 23, 2003, by the Office of Public Affairs