Francesca Stanfill was born in Oxford, England to American parents. She grew up in New York City and moved to Los Angeles when her father, Dennis Carothers Stanfill, moved from Lehman Brothers to an executive position at the Times Mirror Company, working with the Chandler family. (In 1969 he became Executive Vice President of 20thCentury Fox and later CEO in 1971, a post he held until 1981.)
Ms. Stanfill attended Polytechnic High School, in Pasadena, California and then Yale University, where she graduated cum laude in History of Art. (Her senior theses focused on Art of the Italian Renaissance, particularly in Venice.) In 1974, several weeks after graduating, she began to work at Women’s Wear Daily as a reporter, covering the fashion world — the New York collections, eventually – and writing many feature stories, with the encouragement of her boss, John Fairchild. These included interviews with Halston, John Richardson, Ellsworth Kelly, Harry Winston, Rosamond Bernier, Diane von Furstenberg, Marella Agnelli, and J. Carter Brown.
In 1979 she was hired by Abe Rosenthal of the NEW YORK TIMES, where she wrote for primarily for the MAGAZINE, covering fashion/life style. Her first major story, a profile of Gloria Vanderbilt and a study of the merchandising of the Vanderbilt name, was a cover story that fall. Her other pieces included interviews with Diana Vreeland, previews of books (ALLURE, edited by Jacqueline Onassis) and a controversial study of the ascent of Oscar and Francoise de la Renta – “Living Well is Still the Best Revenge” – also a cover story, in December 1980.
In 1981 Ms. Stanfill left the NEW YORK TIMES to write her first novel, SHADOWS & LIGHT, which was later published by Simon & Schuster. (It was subsequently published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton, by Flammarion in France, and in Sweden and Spain.) By this time Ms. Stanfill had married Peter F. Tufo, a lawyer, and had her first child, a daughter.
She continued to write for many publications – VOGUE, HOUSE & GARDEN, the LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK REVIEW, NEW YORK MAGAZINE and the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, among them. In early 1991, she wrote the first major profile of the provocative feminist Camille Paglia – “Warrior Woman”, a cover story – for NEW YORK MAGAZINE.
She pursued her study of history by attending Yale Alumni seminars in the late spring from 1989 through 1993. The first of such seminars, “THE MIDDLE AGES: Creativity and Tradition,” which was led by the prominent scholar of the Middle Ages, John Boswell, rekindled her interest in that period and in several historical figures particularly, including Eleanor of Aquitaine.
In 1994, Ms. Stanfill’s second novel, WAKEFIELD HALL was published by Villard/Random House. Set in the late 1980’s, WAKEFIELD HALL tells the story of a Shakespearean actress and the biographer, a reporter for the WALL STREET JOURNAL, who becomes obsessed with her subject’s life. (The novel was subsequently published in the UK by Warner Books, and in Germany by Pipe, where it enjoyed a long success.) The novel drew upon Ms. Stanfill’s studies of Shakespeare at college and her extensive knowledge of the post-War British theatre, a subject she had followed since her teenage years, when she had become fascinated with the careers of Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, and John Gielgud.
Throughout the 1990’s, Ms. Stanfill continued freelance magazine work while raising her daughter and son. (In 1999, she was divorced from Peter Tufo. ) Her pieces for VANITY FAIR include a story about the legacy of Jacqueline Onassis (1995) which analyzed Onassis’ will and previewed the auction of her estate at Sotheby’s; and an in-depth profile of Jayne Wrightsman, the New York art patron and grande dame (2002). (Many details from the article were used for the chapter on Wrightsman in the recent book on the Metropolitan Museum, ROGUES’ GALLERY, by Michael Gross.)
Ms. Stanfill is currently at work on a novel centered on the life of the 12th century queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, a figure who has enthralled Ms. Stanfill for decades. She has spent the last several years researching her subject and the medieval era in England, France, and Turkey, and has also returned to Yale to audit courses, both graduate and undergraduate. She has also renewed her focus on medieval art, relics, and the Crusades.
Ms. Stanfill speaks fluent French and “good tourist” Italian; she is also an expert skier. In the past ten years, her longtime fascination for the ancient world has intensified, and she has begun to collect Roman and Greek antiquities. She travels extensively with her husband, businessman Richard Nye, whom she married in 2003. A graduate of Harvard, where he majored in English Literature, Mr. Nye shares her interest in history, literature and world affairs. (They have traveled with the Brookings Institution to China and India, and with the Council on Foreign Relations to Saudi Arabia.) They live in New York City and Eastern Long Island, where Ms. Stanfill’s latest project is the creation of a garden with classically inspired statues of the Four Seasons.
Francesca Stanfill is represented by Michael Carlisle of InkWell Management.