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Italian Novelist Comes To Campus Feb. 23

Published: February 17, 2015

Italian novelist Dacia Maraini will speak on “Sacred, Mystical and Profane: Italian Women Writers through the Ages” on Monday, Feb. 23, at 5 pm in the Anatol Center. Her appearance is sponsored by CSULB’s George L. Graziadio Center for Italian Studies and supported by the College of Liberal Arts Scholarly Intersections Fund. The event is offered in consort with the Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles and the CSULB Departments of Comparative World Literature and English. Admission is free.

“Dacia Maraini is the best-known writer in contemporary Italy,” said Clorinda Donato, director of the Graziadio Center and member of Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures since 1988. “She will draw from her new book Chiara of Assisi: In Praise of Disobedience to track the trajectory of Italian women writers. I’m especially grateful to the College of Liberal Arts Scholarly Intersections Fund for providing support for this event.”

Maraini is a writer, poet, essayist, playwright, screenwriter and part of the “generation of the 30s” who ranks with some of the best-known authors of Italian literature. She spent her childhood in Japan where her family settled and where they were interned from 1943-46. Her family survived to return to their home in Sicily. She has won the most prestigious awards for literature in Italy, including the Formentor Prize for L’età del malessere (1963); the Premio Fregene for Isolina (1985); the Premio Campiello and Book of the Year Award for La lunga vita di Marianna Ucrìa (1990) translated as The Silent Duchess and published in English in 2000; and the Premio Strega for Buio (1999). Other books include, Women at War in 2008 and Train to Budapest in 2011.

“The nearly 80-year-old author represents a slice of Italian life that experienced war and fascism,” explained Donato. “She has had quite a life and has documented it in the arts. Her careful eye has charted women as both fictional and historical characters in the interest of offering a women’s perspective on their lives, which are often written about by men. Examples of this aspect of her work can be found in Cercando Emma (Searching for Emma, 1996) where Maraini addresses Flaubert’s contempt for his character Emma Bovary, thus repositioning Emma within literary culture. In like manner, she studies Santa Chiara (Saint Claire) (1195-1253) about whom much has been written, primarily as a function of her subservient role to Saint Francis of Assisi. Instead, in Chiara of Assisi: In Praise of Disobedience (2013), Maraini examines Chiara’s personal decision to live a life of poverty and sacrifice, no longer filtering her life and choices through Saint Francis. Maraini’s mission of giving voice to women throughout the ages has been a hallmark of her literary work. As the author of The Silent Duchess, about the Duchess Marianna Ucrìa, a mute rape victim in eighteenth century Sicily, who witnessed numerous unspeakable acts of violence around her, Maraini confers upon her the voice she lost, and by extension, the voice that many women have yet to find.”

Donato and her colleague, associate professor of Italian Enrico Vettore, who wrote the proposal to bring Maraini to campus, are excited about the novelist’s visit.

“This is a big event for the Center,” Donato said. “Her visit serves as a validation of the George L. Graziadio Center for Italian Studies. The center has been deemed worthy of hosting a novelist of this caliber and we have the audience to sustain it. It is so exciting for the students to meet an author they have read, and we always read Maraini in our classes. This is a good example of what the Graziadio Center does. This is a way of giving back to the community.”

The George L. Graziadio Center for Italian Studies is committed to offering outstanding programs in Italian language, literature and culture to prepare students for careers in the global arena where strong skills in Italian Studies are an asset for professional success, she explained.

“The center was established to be a beacon for Italian Studies as well as Italian-American studies within the region,” she added. “The center offers a place where the best of Italian and Italian-American culture could be put on display and where the community could come and take advantage of world-class events in a local environment. Events like these are what we love to do and what we are supposed to do. By bringing to campus a writer of her stature, we are definitely hitting fulfilling the mission of the Center.”

Donato describes Maraini’s visit as an opportunity for her students to connect with someone who has lived through and written about the most important events of the last 80 years in Italy and the Italian culture. “When you talk to her, you realize that this woman is what the Japanese would call `A Living National Treasure,’” said Donato.