Venice, My Muse: Donna Jo Napoli


Over twenty years ago, I was in a traditional trattoria and was charmed by a retired sandolista named Guido. He told me his life story about being a child during World War II who was rounded up and sent away to a work camp. Turns out that his story was fictionalized as the novel Stones in Water by Donna Jo Napoli. I got to know Donna Jo via email and have now asked her to share her love of Venice in this month’s “Venice, My Muse” interview. She is a Professor of Linguistics and Social Justice at Swarthmore College, where she is also involved in social justice work for deaf children.  She told me, “I work on advocacy for their language rights and on making materials to help them gain preliteracy skills.” About her writing, she adds that “as a fiction writer, my stories more often than not deal with issues of social justice.” See the links at the bottom to learn more about her work and her writing.

How has Venice seduced you?

My list would take pages and pages.  So let me just say that what I appreciate perhaps most of all is that when I’m in Venice, I feel normal.  I grew up with reduced vision and, though I have had surgeries in recent years that have transformed my world, I am not a driver and never will be.  But no one in Venice drives anywhere.  So I can do everything necessary for an ordinary life without leaning on others to schlep me here or there.

What do you never fail to do in Venice?

Say hello to the two remaining bocche. In the days of the Republic, denunciations of criminal activity were made via putting a written description in the mouth of the head of a stone lion mounted in a wall–where the denunciation was picked up on the other side of the wall by officials.  At one point there were over 100 in Venice.  But those that survived through the years were taken away and put in museums (most in the museum of the Palazzo del Duca).  But two remain.  And I always pay my respects to them.


Scene from Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in front of a bocca delle veritá

What is your Venice soundtrack?

Just the soft sound of the water lapping in the canals in the middle of the night.

Walk or take a boat?


Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.

I love the floors of the churches in Venice.  So, of course, I love la Basilica di San Marco.  But my next favorite is Santa Maria della Salute.

Venice floor tiles on the refrigerator door

Donna Jo’s collection of floor tile magnets, which are displayed on her refrigerator

Which is your favorite Venetian festival and why?

I just love the various feste dell’unità.  When my children were little, we always used to work at the feste and serve food to people.  It felt right.

Spritz or Bellini?


What do you always tell friends to do when they visit the city?

Wander and get lost.  Really lost.

If you could have dinner with any Venetian, living or dead, who would it be and why? What would dinner be?

Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia.  She was the first woman in history to get a doctorate degree.  And I’d eat anything she suggested.

Elena Cornaro Piscopia

Dinner with Elena Cornaro may be a frugal affair. She often gave away her meals to the less fortunate.

Casanova: genius or cad?

No idea. I haven’t researched him.

What would you do with $30,000 U.S. to spend in Venice?

Donate it to the various animal sanctuaries, such as the refuges for sick and injured cats on the Lido. (My daughter Eva used to work at one.)


The Palazzo Dario–maybe not the safest palace to purchase, as legend says that numerous previous owners died mysterious and untimely deaths. 

If money were no object, which palazzo would you buy?

Maybe Palazzo Dario?  Maybe Mocenigo?

Which gelato flavor are you?

Pistacchio – no question about that.


Mr. Pistacchi (Mr. Pistachio) owns the Alaska gelato shop in Venice.

How can readers learn more about you and your creative pursuits?  (to meet the writer-me)

and (to meet the linguist-me)

and (to meet the deaf-advocate-me)


This month we’re once again offering a tombola–a raffle! You could win a copy of Donna Jo Napoli’s book Dark Shimmer, about a young girl living as an outcast on a remote island in Venice. Set in the 1500s, Napoli’s story explores love and acceptance amidst the world of mirror making. To be entered in the raffle, please “like” this blog post AND add a comment. Deadline is September 30, midnight Pacific time. 


(Image of Alaska gelato shop from

About seductivevenice

Teacher, writer, traveler, dancer, reader, photographer, gardener.
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3 Responses to Venice, My Muse: Donna Jo Napoli

  1. Pingback: Raffle Is About to End…. | seductivevenice

  2. It’s always wonderful to hear other people’s stories of how Venice bewitched them and Donna Jo sounds like she’s taken that through into her magical books too. Thanks for introducing her to us Kathy, another one to add to my reading list!! xxx

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