Christopher Castellani’s life is packed with reading and writing, as it has been since he was a middle schooler. The South End resident is the author of five books, including his 2019 novel Leading Men, which has just been selected for the Massachusetts Book Awards “Must Read” list.
“I was totally thrilled and definitely surprised,” he said of learning he made the list, adding that he is “honored to be in the company of so many other super talented people” who are also on the list. “I wasn’t sure how well this book would connect with people,” he said.
This honor is not Castellani’s first. He won the Massachusetts Book Award in 2004 for his critically-acclaimed novel A Kiss from Maddalena, his 2005 novel The Saint of Lost Things was chosen as a BookSense (IndieBound) Notable Book, and his 2013 novel All This Talk of Love is a New York Times Editors’ Choice and finalist for the Ferro-Grumley Literary Award. He has also written a collection of essays about point of view in fiction called The Art of Perspective: Who Tells the Story.
Leading Men is set in Italy in the 1950s and is a love story told by two different narrators—the real life Tennessee Williams and his partner Frank Merlo. “Frank is a working class Italian-American guy,” Castellani said, “who found himself in a relationship with an incredible artist.”
Merlo died of lung cancer, sending Willians into a “deep depression,” Castellani explained. “I wanted to write about their relationship and what it was like for Frank to be in that world.”
Set mostly in Italy during the summer of 1953, the story also has an interwoven section about a fictional actress whom the duo meets in Italy and “takes under their wing,” he said. “Her sections are set in Boston in present-day, but Boston is never named,” he said. “She’s sort of a recluse living in Boston; somebody from their past who was connected to Frank finds her and kinds of brings her back into the world a little bit.”
When he’s not writing novels, Castellani is the Artistic Director of creative writing nonprofit GrubStreet, where he as worked for nearly 20 years. “It’s the center of writing and reading in Boston,” he said. “It’s an incredibly supportive community. So many Grubbies are on the must read list.”
He is also on the faculty and academic board of the Warren Wilson MFA Program, as well as the Bread Loaf Writers Conference.
Castellani said he always knew he wanted to be an author, after penning poems and stories and sharing them with people in middle school. He said that for him, reading and writing coincided. “I became a bookworm the same moment I became a ‘writer,’” he said.
He also said that living in the South End certainly has its perks when it comes to having a creative mind, and that he and his partner feel “lucky” to have a condo in the neighborhood.
“The South End has a lively concentration of writers and artists—you do feel that vibe as you walk through the city,” he said. “The South End Library has a wonderful author series that I’ve been a part of.” The South End Authors’ Book Festival also celebrates local writers, he added. “It really does feel like a part of the city that values the contributions that artists have made.”