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Italian literature today: an introduction.

The last time World Literature Today focused its article section on contemporary Italian literature - well, it was so long ago that WLT did not yet exist as such. The year was 1970, and the journal was still known as Books Abroad. The occasion was an auspicious one, however: the celebration of the life and work of the octogenarian Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti, who earlier in the year had been named the first-ever recipient of the Books Abroad International Prize for Literature (known since 1972 as the Neustadt Prize). Sadly, the issue also became a memorial, for the laureate passed away in June - three months after journeying to the University of Oklahoma to receive the then $10,000 award but five months before the Autumn issue's release in November. Had the Old Captain survived the year, he would doubtless have been pleased and gratified at the stellar international array of critics and fellow writers who gathered in print within the pages of that issue to pay homage to him as "the great renovator of Italian poetry" in the twentieth century: Luciano Rebay, Glauco Cambon, Piero Bigongiari, Thomas Bergin, Michael Ricciardelli, but also Mario Luzi, Jorge Guillen, Francis Ponge, John Ciardi, Allen Tate, and Allen Ginsberg, among many others. Ungaretti and, by extension, Italian poetry stood fully reconfirmed in their rightful, deserved place within the pantheon of contemporary world literature. Further confirmation - as if any were required - of Italian poetry's international stature followed five years later when the Swedish Academy awarded the 1975 Nobel Prize in Literature to Ungaretti's countryman and near-coeval Eugenio Montale, an equally towering figure though so markedly different in style and sensibility from "Ungar."

More than a quarter of a century has elapsed since our publication of the Ungaretti issue, and quite obviously much has occurred on the Italian literary scene during that lengthy stretch of time: the passing of several major figures from the older generation (including Montale), of many of the wartime survivors (Primo Levi, Alberto Moravia), and of too many of the postwar giants (Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italo Calvino, Natalia Ginzburg, Leonardo Sciascia, Elsa Morante, to name but five); the full flowering and/or continued excellence of such older and middle-generation writers as Andrea Zanzotto, Dacia Maraini, Edoardo Sanguineti, Giovanni Giudici, Dario Fo, Carlo Sgorlon, Rosetta Loy, Fulvio Tomizza, Francesca Duranti, and the spectacularly successful Umberto Eco; and the emergence of such richly talented younger writers as Gianni Celati, Sebastiano Vassalli, Antonio Tabucchi, Nico Orengo, Aldo Busi, Stefano Benni, Paola Capriolo, and Roberto Deidier. All of these writers, and many many more, have been reviewed continually in the pages of BA and WLT since 1970, and individual essays on and by a number of them (Levi, Calvino, Luzi, Sciascia, Tomizza, Motante, and, most recently, Giose Rimanelli) have appeared from time to time as well. Luzi, Margherita Guidacci, Giancarlo Vigorelli, and the scholar/critic Sergio Perosa have served as Neustadt jurors, presenting such candidates as Sciascia, Levi, and Zanzotto. Italian publishers - Mondadori, Einaudi, Feltrinelli, Rizzoli, Marsilio, and so many more, large and small alike - all know us well and have been among the most gracious and cooperative of colleagues over the seven decades since Roy Temple House first sent out his urgent appeal for books to review in BA's founding year of 1927 and subsequently corresponded with (and often elicited contributions from) the likes of Pirandello, D'Annunzio, and Silone.

With all that as backdrop, and with introductions provided by Editorial Board member Rebecca West and by Perosa, former WLT editor Djelal Kadir received a warm and cordial welcome from the majority of writers and critics whom he contacted in mid-1996 - by letter and in some cases in person as well - with invitations to contribute to a proposed special issue on the current state of Italian belles lettres. Particularly gratifying were the positive, enthusiastic responses of such revered figures as Zanzotto, Giudici, and Paolo Barbaro, who generously permitted the publication of excerpts from their recent work as complements to the critical-theoretical submissions which many of them made available for use in the issue as well. Not all the promised contributions materialized, of course, despite the best of intentions on all sides; and so a few gaps will be readily noticeable in our survey (drama, Eco, younger fiction writers) along with an emphasis on poetry in general and dialect poetry in particular that may not be fully in balance. Still, the articles and prose and poetry selections gathered here present a composite view of a literature that is as vital and active and self-renewing as ever, in several fields - poetry, fiction, essay - and the range of contributors is impressive, including writers both younger (Deidier) and older (Zanzotto, Giudici), both creative (Buffoni) and academic (Marenco, Gnisci), both stay-at-home (Serrao) and peripatetic exile (Rimanelli), both literary outsider (Barbaro) and actively engaged translator/editor (Bonaffini). Several of these authors and critics composed their texts directly in English for our farflung reading audience; for the other contributions we are additionally indebted to such translators as Peter Cocozzella, Patricia Gathercole, Thomas Peterson, Justin Vitiello, and Francesca Novello, several of whom had to labor under very short deadlines to meet our needs. All the contributors and their subjects are integral parts of Italian literature today, or at least of this one quick snapshot of one moment in the late 1990s within the scenic panorama that is truly and unequivocally Italian Literature Today.

William Riggan
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Title Annotation:Italian Literature Today
Author:Riggan, William
Publication:World Literature Today
Date:Mar 22, 1997
Previous Article:Propaganda by Monuments and Other Stories.
Next Article:Contemporary Italian literature from a comparatist's perspective.

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