Tag Archives: Italian-American writing

Mining Youtube for interviews with Italian-American writers

I know. The world is coming to an end. I’m actually posting two days in a row. The last time that happened was when I was attempting to write a poem a day.

Today, I came across a writing gem…well an Italian-American writing gem. I often check out the Italian American Writers Association (IAWA) website for the latest news. Most everything is happening in New York. I dream of attending one of the monthly readings the Cornelia Street Cafe, but I’m here in Michigan. Still, it’s a great resource for finding new authors to read and for finding some publications to submit to. In fact, the reason I sent three poems for submission to More Sweet Lemons: An Anthology on Sicilian Writings is because I read it in the IAWA newsletter.

For a long time I noticed a regular announcement for Vito De Simone and his interviews with Italian-American writers that appeared on a cable channel in New York. Sadly, I knew I couldn’t view them from my little burg in Michigan. Today, however, something made me Google the guys name to see if there was any way I could see some of the interviews. I found the station’s Website and, as luck would have it, it directed me to Youtube where I found a slew of interviews.

The first I listened to was an interview with Robert Viscusi (spelled incorrectly in the video). I have so many more to listen to. I was especially drawn to Viscusi’s explanation for why Italian-American writing must be labeled. He said it was the way the book industry worked and that the goal is to have a shelf identifying these books alongside other ethnic groups that have been identified by the publishing industry. Otherwise, the voices remain silent and go unnoticed. I appreciated hearing that articulated. It reinvigorated my want to further my studies in Italian-American literature.

My duty as a writer/reader/Italian-American

It was about nine years ago when I walked into a branch of the Ann Arbor Public Library to recheck a book. I had used up all my time and hadn’t finished the book. This forced me to find another book to check out. Frustrated, I looked through the shelves of fiction for anything when my search stopped at green spine with the title Paper Fish.

Little did I know that it would open up a whole world for me. I was writing at the time and working an unstimulating job at an insurance agency. As I read the book written by Chicago author Tina DeRosa, I connected with the characters–Italian immigrants living in Chicago.

I don’t live in Chicago, but I’m Italian, the product of Italian immigrants and, other than mob stories, I’d never really seen or heard much about stories of Italian immigrants. Yes, everybody knows Mario Puzzo, but the stories of Italians immigrating to America run much deeper than those stories and provide an important link to understanding immigration stories today and understanding assimiliation, which was what so many Italians did. DeRosa’s book opened that world up to me. I not only swallowed her story, but I was eager to read more. Fortunately, the reprint of her novel by The Feminist Press included a bibliography of many other stories and books by Italian-American authors, mostly women.

Poet, writer Dana Gioia, in his essay “What is Italian-American Poetry” writes:

The creation of a full and meaningful literary tradition for Italian-American letters will require more intellectual energy than we have historically seen in our community. The necessary changes in attitude must happen soon—while the living connections with the immigrant experience still exist—or never. Our community has all the talent, intelligence, and influence to make the changes. What we lack is the resolve.”

What has happened to me with the simple discovery of this genre, so linked to my own upbringing, is that I feel compelled as a poet, author and, hopefully one day an educator, to bring this virtually unheard voice to the surface. There are so many respected poets and writers working toward that now. Just visit the Italian-American Writers Association website at www.iawa.net and see.

Gioia also says we can’t simply list Italian surnames for Italian-American writing to be recognized as a serious literary genre. I agree. There needs to be close critical study of these works. We can’t throw them out there into the world, pat ourselves on the heads and say see we can write, too.  Through the close critical study of the Italian-American voice we will discover a large hole left in the American literary tradition by the mere fact that these voices have been under-represented. I think of Dorothy Bryant’s novel “Miss Giardino” that not only examines the cultural gap between first and second generation immigrants, but the link (the similarities and differences) between the next wave of immigrants and what or what has not changed in the American cultural view of immigration.

Denise Levertov writes:

“I don’t think one can accurately measure the historical effectiveness of a poem; but one does know, of course, that books influence individuals; and individuals, although they are part of large economic and social processes, influence history. Every mass is after all made up of millions of individuals.”

How can we understand the immigrant in the literary tradition if we ignore the voice of an entire wave of immigrants?