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Maria Bellonci, née Villavecchia, was born and raised in Rome, the eldest daughter of a chemistry professor. She attended a convent school and the Umberto I grammar school, and began writing as a young woman. In 1928, she married Goffredo Bellonci, a newspaper editor and critic 20 years her senior who served as her literary mentor. She made her debut as a writer in 1939 with an acclaimed biography of Lucrezia Borgia. Her books were noted for their painstaking research and use of original source documents, and for their vivid reconstruction of characters and historical periods. She and her husband hosted a literary salon in their home, from which was founded the Premio Strega (Strega Prize) for Italian literature, first awarded in 1947. In 1986, she herself won the Premio Strega for her novel Private Renaissance about Isabella d'Este. Two of her other novels were adapted into a 1982 Italian television miniseries called Delitto di Stato (Crime of State).
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