Living Well in Litchfield County, Connecticut

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A Place in Time

Three Couples Continuing Litchfield County’s Creative Legacy 

By Clementina Verge

Photo by Ryan Lavine

Creativity is intertwined in Litchfield County’s history, transcending times and genres. Many have settled here, drawing inspiration from the area’s tranquility while contributing to its artistic legacy. 

Among them are Dani Shapiro and husband Michael Maren, who relocated from Brooklyn two decades ago. Friends took bets on how long they’d last outside an urban environment. 

Instead of rural isolation, Shapiro found inner peace and solitude that served as “a provocation to shape the creative life” she desired.

Pulitzer Prize winners Arthur Miller and Frank McCourt welcomed them to the neighborhood. Literary greats William and Rose Styron welcomed them to dinner. Shapiro remembers conversations with Francine du Plessix Gray, while Maren reminisces about watching movies in a barn with “tremendously inspiring” Oscar-winning director and screenwriter Milos Forman.

Today, neighbors have changed, but camaraderie remains. Lisa Taddeo and Jackson Waite, and Courtney Maum and Diego Ongaro are among the creative couples who gather around the dinner table now.

Between them, accomplishments abound. Shapiro, whose novel Signal Fires is her latest in a long list of best-sellers, is preparing the ninth season of Family Secrets, a podcast series with more than 30 million downloads. She is also developing Signal Fires for television adaptation.

Maren, a journalist who spent 20 years in Africa, is an accomplished screenwriter and director whose latest film “A Little White Lie” was released last year. He is finishing the script for Shapiro’s memoir Inheritance.

A few miles away, Taddeo is the prize-winning author of Ghost Lover and Animal. Her first nonfiction book, Three Women, a New York Times bestseller, is an upcoming television series on Starz. Taddeo and Waite are merging “two utterly different talents” as executive producers while also adapting the book for stage production. 

“People experience things differently,” notes Waite, “and it’s exciting adding women’s voices to various platforms and allowing for a multidimensional immersion into these characters’ lives.” 

The reward is multifaceted, explains Taddeo: creating “robust parts for women” often overlooked by Hollywood after a certain age, while experiencing the synergy of working with her partner. Taddeo is also writing a gothic thriller set in Italy and a nonfiction book about grief; she is actively seeking community input about “stories of deep passion and hope and need after loss.”

A couple of towns away, Maum has authored five books, including Before and After the Book Deal, a publishing guide that Vanity Fair named one of the ten best books for writers, and the memoir The Year of the Horses. The Today Show named it the best read for Mental Health Awareness Month. A horse rider, she is writing the memoir of a Montana cowgirl coping with a traumatic brain injury.

Her French writer/director husband is working on his third feature film—a contemporary western called Gone by Morning that he hopes to shoot in the American West. Ongaro’s last features “about rural working people and the beauty and sometimes hostility of the landscape” were filmed on the Litchfield County border.

“I am inspired daily by the beauty that surrounds us, the bounty of the different seasons, and the variety of people I’m in constant contact with,” remarks Ongaro. “Our friend group is an interesting mix of stone carvers, loggers, conceptual artists, farmers…representing the eclecticism of people this county attracts.” 

And then there is the solitude and slower pace. Relationships are not merely transactional; ideas have time and space to percolate.

“There’s an amazing sense of tradition here,” Shapiro muses about the place where she and her friends balance life, love, and work in the footsteps of literary legends of the past. 

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