Anna Maria Ortese is one of the most celebrated and original Italian writers of the 20th century. She was born in Rome on June 13, 1914, one of seven children, and grew up in southern Italy and in Tripoli. Her formal education ended at age thirteen. Her first book, “Angelici dolori”, was issued in 1937. In 1953 her third collection, “Il mare non bagna Napoli”, won the coveted Viareggio prize; thereafter, Ortese’s stories, novels, and journalism received many of the most distinguished Italian literary awards, including the Strega and the Fiuggi. Although she lived for many years in Naples following the Second World War, she also resided in Milan, in Rome, and for most of the last twenty years of her life in Rapallo. Anna Maria Ortese died in Rapallo in 1998.
Elsa Morante, one of the best-known writers in Italy, was born in Rome in 1912 to a Jewish teacher from Modena who was married at the time to Hugo Gusto Morante, an educator and municipal official. She went to school only at the age of ten, and after graduating from high school at about the age of 18, she began her university studies at the Faculty of Humanities. She stopped her studies due to financial difficulties and began to make a living by giving private lessons. In 1936 she met author Alberto Moravia and married him in 1941. She began to write short stories that appeared in various journals. Her first book, The Secret Game, a collection of short stories, was published in 1941. In 1942, she published a children’s book called The Wonderful Adventures of Cathari with the Thin Braid. At the end of World War II, Moravia was accused of anti-Fascist activity and the couple was forced to flee to the Cassino region of southern Italy. This area appears in many of her works. She began to translate the works of Katherine Mansfield, whose influence was evident in Morante’s later work. In 1947, with the assistance of Natalia Ginzburg, she gave a publisher her first novel, False Witchcraft, which was published in 1948. In 1957, the novel Arturo’s Island was published, which won her the Strega Prize. The collection The Andalusian Scarf was published in 1963. In 1974, her most famous novel History was published in 1974. It is an historical novel dealing with Rome during World War II. Aracoeli which was published in 1982 was her last book. She passed away in 1985. Elsa Morante is one of the best-known writers in the world, and in Italy the Elsa Morante Award is awarded annually.
Natalia Ginzburg is an Italian writer, essayist, and scriptwriter. Ginzburg was born in Palermo in 1916 to a well-to-do family, Jewish on her father’s side, who was an anatomy professor, and a Catholic on her mother’s side. In 1919, her family moved to Turin and her home became a meeting place for many intellectuals who opposed the Mussolini regime. She married the Russian editor and activist Leon Ginzburg. Leon was arrested for resisting the regime and died after torture in an Italian prison in 1944. Gintzburg worked for forty years as an editor at Einaudi publishing house. In 1950 she remarried. She was a member of the Italian Communist Party and was elected to the Italian parliament in 1983 as an independent candidate. She has published plays, essays, short stories and many novels. For her work, she won the Strega Prize and the Bagutta Prize. She died in 1991.
Italian writer, poet, and scholar Giovanni Boccaccio was born in 1313. While in Naples during the “Black Death” epidemic, in 1348, Boccaccio had his first thoughts on what would eventually become his greatest and most famous work, the story cycle of The Decameron (Italian for “The Book of Ten Days”). It is considered that he was born in Florence (previously it was assumed that he was born in Paris). When he was sent to Naples to study, he absorbed many cosmopolitan influences. Upon his return to Florence, he held various public positions, including serving as city emissary to the Pope. In his literary work, he was influenced by Dante, and in his life has met Italian poet and scholar Petrarch and the two became close friends. The writing of The Decameron was apparently completed in 1352, when Boccaccio was 49 years old, and over the years it became one of the most influential literary works in world literature and a touchstone in the development of Italian literary language. Boccaccio, later known as one of the precursors of humanism of the Renaissance, died in 1375.
In Six Characters in Search of an Author – his most familiar play – author and playwright Luigi Pirandello wrote: “We think we understand each other,” and added: “but we never really do.” Pirandello was born in Sicily in 1867. His widely-known works in prose include the novel The Late Mattia Pascal and the fifteen-volume short story collection, Short Stories for a Year. Articulating the sense of absurd that underlies in human existence, Pirandello titled one of his plays Each in His Own Way, and in another has written: “If only we could see in advance all the harm that can come from the good we think we are doing.” Pirandello was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1934. He died two years later, in 1936, at the age of 69.
Antonio Tabucchi, Italian writer and academic, was born in Pisa in 1943 and died in 2012 in Lisbon, his adopted home, where he lived six months a year. The son of a horse trader, he studied literature and philosophy before taking up writing himself, and then he combined his writing with a variety of academic posts, and was professor of Portuguese literature at the University of Siena. In Lisbon he was also director of the Italian Cultural Institute. Over the course of his career, he won France’s Medicis Prize for Indian Nocturne, the Italian PEN Prize for Requiem, and the Aristeion European Literature for Pereira Declares, that was adapted into cinema in 1995 in a film with Marcello Mastroianni. In addition to his fictional writing, Tabucchi translated Fernando Pessoa and other Portuguese writers into Italian. In the aftermath of the controversy following the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (1988), Tabucchi was one of the founder members, in 1993, of the International Parliament of Writers, an organization that highlights censorship and incursions into writers’ freedom around the world. A staunch critic of Italian ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, he once said that “democracy isn’t a state of perfection, it has to be improved, and that means constant vigilance.” Tabucchi’s writings have been translated into 40 languages. He was married to the Portuguese translator and critic Maria José de Lancastre, and had two children.
Giovanni Carmelo Verga is a prominent Italian writer. Founder of the Verismo movement (“vero” is Italian for “truth”), his major works were written at the turn of the twentieth century. Verga was born in Sicily in 1840 and shared his time between the cultural centers of Florence and Milan and his childhood landscape. His late return to this landscape, at the age of forty, produced his central and most famous pieces, I Malavoglia and Maestro-don Gesualdo, both of which take place in Sicily and focus on its rural characters, who are sentenced to an almost feudal life of oppressive labor. Above all, Verga is known for his precise linguistic representation of the Sicilian dialect, the use of a groundbreaking free and indirect speech technique and the way he assimilates the voice of the narrator in the local jargon and reality.
Italian author and screenwriter Giuseppe Berto (1914-1978) is mostly known for his novels, The Sky Is Red (1947) and Dark Illness (1964), both of which have been translated into numerous languages.