Written by John Chadwick | SAS Senior Writer
Authors wrestling with race, religion, and sexuality
They are writers who shine a penetrating light on Italy, exploring the searing experience of immigrants, exposing discrimination against LGBTQ communities, and questioning the impact of industrial capitalism.
But because their books haven’t been translated into English, these authors are largely unknown to readers outside of Italy.
Scholars in the Italian department at Rutgers University have joined forces with Rutgers University Press to translate and publish “Other Voices of Italy,” a book series that introduces English-speaking audiences to a selection of authors from Italy–some contemporary and some from earlier generations—whose work often wrestles with issues of alienation, injustice, and despair in Italian society.
“We’re publishing books that give voice to those who were often denied one,” said Alessandro Vettori, a professor in the Department of Italian who is editing the series with two Rutgers-educated scholars, Sandra Waters and Eilis Kierans. “And in doing so, we’re shaping up the field of Italian studies, in rendering it more accessible to the English-speaking world.”
A total of nine titles have been published since the start of 2023, including Reversing the Gaze, a novel about an African-born scholar in Italy who finds an intriguing way to respond to the withering stares she receives from the white majority.
“In brief, she felt she was being observed like an animal in a cage,” Vettori said. “So she started redirecting the gaze, turning it back on the people who were belittling her.”
Many selections shed light on the experiences of marginalized communities, such as Islam and Me, a memoir by a Somali immigrant, and AntoloGaia: Queering the Seventies, A Radical Trans Memoir, by noted activist Porpora Marcasciano.
Yet not every book focuses on hot button issues. Some are simply engrossing stories, like My Language Is a Jealous Lover, in which Argentinian-born Adrián N. Bravi recounts his own linguistic journey of straddling two languages and cultures while exploring the experiences of authors who wrote in languages other than their own.
“Anyone who speaks more than one language will love this book,” Vettori said. “It’s about your life.”
For Vettori, a veteran professor who specializes in Medieval studies, the series provides an infusion of fresh perspectives and ideas that could help reshape Italian studies programs in colleges and universities across English-speaking countries. Students, he says, often harbor an idealized view of Italy and embrace a literary and cinematic canon that, while masterful, is largely situated in the 20th century.
“Italy really is a totally different country than it was when I left to go to America 35 years ago,” he said. “We are presenting books that give a realistic picture of Italy that’s not stuck in the 1950s.”
Vettori also sees the project as a moral calling amidst the current political climate, citing the wave of book banning that targets themes of race, gender, history, and sexuality.
“What we’re doing with our book series is really going in the opposite direction of what you see in places like Florida,” he said. “We are proposing books that are supposed to make people uncomfortable, that make people think critically, and that could change our ideas of what Italy really is.”
The series also provides fresh translations of some classic older works, such as The Outcast, a novel written by Nobel Prize winning author Luigi Pirandello in the late 19th century.
Vettori is overseeing the series with Waters and Kierans, both of whom received their PhDs in Italian studies from Rutgers. They came up with the idea several years ago during a routine review of submissions for Italian Quarterly, an English language journal published by the Italian department at Rutgers. One submission was the translation of a book excerpt written in Italian.
“We couldn’t publish it because we don’t do translation,” Vettori explained. “And then we started thinking that maybe we should start some kind of translation series.”
“The short version of the story is that Rutgers University Press was interested so we have been working with them for about three years now.”
The three credited the support of Rutgers University Press.
“RUP has supported our creative vision through all phases of the process, from editing to marketing and design,” Kierans said. “They have even accompanied us as far as Sicily to help publicize the series. Now that is dedication.”
The series has been drawing attention and acclaim. Book sales have been brisk. Proposals for additional books have been pouring in. And the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation provided a grant for the Pirandello translation.
Meanwhile, Vettori and his colleagues have been invited to give keynote speeches and present papers at places such as the Italian Cultural Institute in New York City and the Canadian Association of Italian Studies.