Saturday, November 14, 2020

On Judging the Italian Prose in Translation Award

This past year, I was a judge for the Italian Prose in Translation Award, given each year by the industry association known as ALTA (the American Literary Translators Association).

And what that's meant is tons of Italian literature making its way to my house. Or maybe better yet, just more than usual. It has also illustrated to me in a very personal way how difficult it is to nail a good translation. So many variables, so many tricky word combos to get right.

The five finalists were all quite worthy. They included an intriguing murder-mystery by an author I'd never encountered before (Piero Chiara) and a translator (Jill Foulston) whose work was so fluid, I forgot at times I wasn't reading in the original language; and a fictional account of the women charged with pre-tasting Hitler's food to screen out poisons (written by Rosella Postorino and translated by Leah Janeczko).

Ultimately, the award went to Frederika Randall, who translated the wonderfully innovative novel, I Am God by Giacomo Sartori. I am sorry to say the awarding was posthumous as we lost Randall this year (after impressive careers in journalism AND literary translation).

More information and the full list of IPTA finalists here:


Saturday, September 05, 2020

What I'm not writing about (for Brevity)

My father, age 84, is ill and for the most part, I am not writing about it.

I don’t want to write about it, beyond forcing myself to record some basic facts in my journal for the future me who may want to reconstruct how everything went so terribly wrong. 

For example, one morning while I was staying with my parents last month, my father woke up and said, “We were robbed last night.”

Aware this hadn’t happened, I said, “Oh really?”

And he replied with great certainty, “They were convicts.”

I jotted down the moment in my journal like you might a bad dream.

Please read the rest at the Brevity Nonfiction Blog:

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

From the Archive: Italian diary, May 2017

I’m back in the “in-between” world, the space where sentences begin in one language and end in another. 

It’s a world that I inhabited for many years and then withdrew from (in Allentown, when I resigned myself to being stateside).

The in-between world is one I love and I loathe – loving it because Italian quickens my pulse! I become Italian Jeanne -- who has the luxury of walking everywhere, yes everywhere, every day, which only serves to ratchet up my already overflowing reserves of enthusiasm and energy. I might just walk someone to death in Italy, purely out of the joy of movement in my adopted country!

I also loathe the in-between world because it plunges me into saudade. What was, what could have been, what wasn't. America is the land of opportunity -- but it is not, for the most part, a land with an excess of perfectly-planned, grand public spaces linked by achingly beautiful cobblestone streets to other perfectly-planned, grand public spaces, where you can be both with and without people. Where you can see something heart-stoppingly beautiful outside of yourself and something deep inside of you, too.

I walk through the streets of Torino (or insert here whatever Italian city that I happen to be visiting) and I want to consume everything. Not merely a panino or a gelato, the things one normally consumes, but buildings, nooks, mossy courtyards, caffes, signs – especially signs, any vehicle for the Italian language that falls under my sight. Also: cobblestone streets and the tight juxtaposition of shops and restaurants, piazzine, too, which are tiny, often hidden lands frequented only locals. Yes, I want to consumer those piazzine, those cortili (which especially in Torino seem to give access to worlds unseen), I want to mainline the way bikes cross piazzas and how content and confident the riders appear. I want to inhale how toddlers bound across the grand squares of Torino without a car in sight -- how Italian cities are made for children to be children.

I want to gobble up how homey some of the cafés appear – their singular arrangement of product and signage and sumptuously-arranged display window and ancient door, making me want to eat and drink items I don’t even like or simply don’t care for at the moment (no I don't need another caffe or brioche, and yet, well, while I am here...).

Seeing these homespun creations, I want to order 3 cappuccini, 4 ciambelline (like donuts but not), and also some other pastry that looks yummy and appena sfornata, a glass of acqua gassataun bicchiere di vino rosso and maybe something else (I actually had breakfast twice every day I was in Italy this trip -- che golosa!).

It’s almost tender, how beautiful Italian cities are (and how welcoming their public and consumer spaces are). Made to be lived in, made for life outdoors, in the streets, in public. As if the Italians’ need for picturesque boulevards and quaint eateries is something they can’t help wear on their sleeves, as if it’s a remnant of the warm, coddled world of their childhood. That need to be welcomed and wanted by the world around us, by the barista, the giornalaio. That need for human contact.

At the risk of repeating myself, it will never be anything else but thrilling that Italy is a place I’ve called home, a place that’s still home to a very significant part of my mind. Somehow I am lucky enough to know this foreign country in the most intimate way. I didn’t simply live in Italy – it lives in me. Every time I’m here, I’m thoroughly inhabited by this bewildering, beloved, bedazzling country. 

Inhabited in a way that makes me spring to life, as if in Atlanta or America in general, I’m merely treading water, moving ahead instead of bursting onto the street and through piazzas as I do in Italy.

You may grow tired of reading this, and other posts that are similar, but I, at least, never seem to lose that thrill of contact with the culture. Even in moments of difficulty – where Italians insist on something absurd – this is still my Italy.


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Italy on my mind (more than usual)

I keep thinking about Italy, about being in Italy, about walking the streets of Italy. 

It's the thing I want to do most right now, not simply when the quarantine is lifted. But right now. It's visceral. And also not possible, and not practical. 

So instead, as I mentioned in a previous post, I am listening to programs like Prima Pagina and watching videos on Facebook (especially The Jackal) to gain even just a glimpse of il Bel paese.

I am also thinking back to the last time I was preparing to return to Italy, and re-reading old posts ... like this one:

Un abbraccio -- ci vediamo presto!

*&*&*&*&*& --30-- *&*&*&*

Thursday, May 14, 2020

My students are still keeping a journal

As I mentioned in a previous post, I asked my students to keep what I called a Coronavirus Journal when our course went from live lessons to remote learning, and they continued to post in our journal up until the last class.

They wrote about so many things -- anxiety, boredom, hope, love, and the big things that seem small and the small things that seem big, to paraphrase the memoirist Beth Kephart. One student wrote about being the product of a divorce, which meant during her childhood she didn't know her half siblings very well. Now they are sharing a house under quarantine and catching up on the lost years. Heart breaking -- mine is.

Some treated the diary -- which we posted to an online forum that's part of the course's cyberhome -- as a private account where they could say anything. Indeed, one student remarked that he would probably never see any of us again and so he divulged his most intimate preoccupations, his failures, his worries. Then he would write that he hoped no one was reading his posts. Still, they were there -- and I read them.

These students are graduate students, not undergrads. But the tenderness, the loneliness, the fear inherent in their posts rendered them more like high school students, and I say that as a compliment. They didn't hold back. Didn't posture.

Here's the post I contributed to Brevity magazine's Nonfiction Blog about it:

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Poetry translations published!

Asymptote Journal has published four poems by Edith Bruck that I translated from Italian. It provides me with a much-needed respite since last week I should have been studying her works (and the Italian works of other women writers who survived the Holocaust) at the New York Public Library as part of a fellowship I won last year.

Instead, we are all home (the NYPL postponed my fellowship, and understandably so) ... but we can read poetry. And that is no small comfort.

You'll find on the journal's site not only my translations but also the original text of the poems in Italian, a Translator's Note in which I attempt to characterize Bruck's poetry, and recordings of Signora Bruck reciting the poems in Italian.

You can find the poems at this link or read the shortest one below:


Of the men who count
In life
There’s only one:
The father who is missing


Tuesday, April 07, 2020

"Prima Pagina" -- an ode

When I launched this blog, I wrote to reflect my own joy in knowing Italian, studying Italian and speaking Italian and also to inspire that joy in others.

Now I write here about everything that sparks joy (to steal a line from Marie Kondo, my letter to her over on the right side of this blog, notwithstanding).

Yet Italian pleasures remain paramount, especially now that my beloved adopted country is suffering so much on account of COVID-19.

One small joy in these dark days has been listening to *Prima Pagina*, a RAI radio program where – I kid you not – a journalist reads and discusses the front pages (= prima pagina) of all of the major Italian newspapers.

Each week, a different journalist is asked to read through the Italian papers aloud, commenting on each article he or she finds on the front page. Commenting, but not commentating. The journalist is presenting the news, at times pointing out relevant facts or dates, but not giving an opinion on anything beyond noting, say, that a particular subject is covered by each paper or covered in different ways by the various pubs.

I imagine Italian housewives listen to it, but it would appeal to anyone who wanted to follow the news without sitting down to read the newspaper -- or really, every major paper in the country! 

I suppose for a news junkie/news industry professional like me, it's an obvious draw. But I think it would benefit students of Italian because the program deals heavily with the headlines, which are short combinations of words that, if you wanted, you could even find online. Meaning, you could read along as the journalist of the week reads, reinforcing comprehension.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Coronavirus Journal ... for the Brevity Nonfiction Blog

I've asked my students at Wesleyan to keep a coronavirus journal -- a diary of their days as they navigate what are truly unprecedented times. (I asked the "student" in the photo here, too, but so far, no go).

I see it as a tiny, silver lining to the crisis and the quarantine because while it will be a new assignment, it's likely to be one that taps into writing (or at least thinking) they are already doing. I say "tiny" because I hesitate to wax poetic about the "good" that will come out of the pandemic since it almost seems anathema, but there's no question these extraordinary times will inspire us to do things we normally don't do.

Indeed, at the start of the term, I asked them to keep journals but had the sense few were writing in them outside of class (it's a course on memoir). Now I suspect they are galvanized. This hot-house atmosphere of illness and fear has them living in new ways, with inspiration a-plenty, and a desperate need to vent their frustrations somewhere. And their entries are LONG!

I was so inspired by their writing that I pitched a column to the Brevity Nonfiction Blog about it and the editors, I'm thrilled to say, decided to run it. You can read it here:

As I say in the piece for Brevity, "An unusual moment in our world has created an opening for me as a teacher to reinforce the very principles I've been trying to convey (write whenever you can, track details, take your mental temperature). But ... how to replicate next time?"

In any event, my students so far are capturing exactly what I imagined, as I mentioned in my piece for Brevity; "the small changes, the absence of one activity or obligation creating space for something else, the repercussions of our new routines (one student fears the increased screen time from working virtually is interfering with her sleep and I would agree!)."

I don't plan on sharing their entries but here are two of mine:

*March 26, 2020*
File under, Thank God/silver lining/finally: I am in love with James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son.”

In an introduction to the older edition I am reading, borrowed from Olin, Baldwin writes, “I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

*March 25, 2020*
Leo yesterday had a Zoom meeting with his teacher. The same Zoom software I am using to teach my class at Wesleyan, except it’s not AT Wesleyan anymore.

He’s above average in reading and likes Math a lot, so perhaps we are lucky in some ways because I don’t think he will miss out as much as one might fear.

Nonetheless, a part of me grieves that he’s been robbed of the fundamental social nature of school, particularly as an only child.

Yet I am always of two minds – literally always, before coronavirus and probably always, and I think of it as an occupational hazard as a journalist.

He should be in school but in MY HOME SCHOOL he can rock in his chair or even slump (for a while at least), he can stand up to do math problems, he can walk around the computer room on the third floor while he explains fables to me. Oh, and we have gym every day, multiple times a day.

And yet – the other mind weighing in again – he has not played with a friend in a week.


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Review: A GIRL RETURNED by Donatella Di Pietrantonio

Finally, my review of one of the best Italian novels of 2019 has run! You can find my whole review of A GIRL RETURNED here on the Kenyon Review's site, and a short excerpt of the piece here below:

"In the gripping new Italian novel in translation A Girl Returned, a young girl’s adoptive parents suddenly bring her back to her birth mother, thirteen years later, as if she were an expired item. Adoptions are typically permanent, no? Not in this novel by Donatella Di Pietrantonio, who deftly grapples here with the holy trifecta of human emotions (and thus, fiction): love, longing and loss.
"The stunning turn of events propels the girl into a new world. The first person she meets in the other home is Adriana, a sister whose existence she has heretofore known nothing about. The move to the new house forces her to exchange life as an only child for a home where she shares a bedroom with four siblings, including three teenage boys. Her sense of alarm (and the reader’s) is underscored when she tries to escape by pretending she has left something in her adoptive father’s car. Once inside the car, she activates the locks, begging him to take her back. As he forcibly removes her, the narrator comments, “In his grip I no longer recognized the hand of the taciturn father I’d lived with until that morning.” It seems an act of unmitigated cruelty by the father—and in one way, it surely is—but maverick plot twists revealed later in this startlingly suspenseful book will somewhat attenuate that verdict."