The poetry of Theresa Maggio

Theresa Maggio

One of the most surprising finds in my journey into Sicily was the discovery of the works of American journalist Theresa Maggio.

Her concise poetic prose distils the true essence of Sicily in an almost intoxicating style.
Maggio’s intimate memoirs are delicate little stories which distil the essence of the character of the island.

From the ancient traditions in her novella Mattanza; love and death in the sea of Sicily where she describes the great blue tuna being lifted out the men harvest the bluefin, lifting them by hand from a labyrinthine trap used by fishermen at Favignana. The fishermen no longer use this technique, with the advent of commercial fishing this tradition has ended, yet the songs and struggles of these workers are lovingly recorded by Maggio for prosperity.

The distinct personality of the isolated old towns in her second book, The stone boudoir; travels through the hidden villages of Sicily are wonderfully evocative. Maggio’s ability to paint such vivid portraits, allows us to visit these rustic mountain towns and the women who help to keep them alive.

Her voice was one of the first voices I heard from Sicily, and it indeed spoke loudly, clearly and directly to my romantic, poetic soul.

I was thrilled to get in contact with Theresa Maggio and talk to her about her work.

 

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Your first two books Mattanza and Stone Boudoir came from a part of your own personal family history and experience tell us about how they happened together.

Yes, my first connection to Sicily was through my family. I first went there when I was still in college to see where my paternal grandparents had come from and to meet the relatives who were still there.

Back home years later I actually started writing about the little towns I had visited in 1986, when I lived in Mondello, where Piero the fisherman would take care of my dog while I went off on bus joy rides into the hinterlands. Santa Margherita Belice, my ancestral town, was one of my destinations. But so was Favignana. My friend, writer Joyce Marcel (joycemarcel.com) , was my first reader, God bless her, and when she read the Favignana chapter I guess it popped and she said, “Here’s your book. Write this.” And that was how Mattanza was born. But I still had all these stories I wanted to tell about beautiful little medieval mountain towns, so as soon as Mattanza was finished I wrote a five-page proposal for Stone Boudoir and Perseus Books, Mattanza’s publisher, bought that too.

How would you describe your books to someone who has never read them?

Colourful narrative nonfiction that makes you feel like you were there.

Was it difficult to find an audience/publisher for these books at all?

HAH. For the first one? You bet. I had given up. It took years. I saved all my rejection notes. A simple “no thanks” would have sufficed, but one editor wrote back something like, ”WhatEVER made you think I or anyone else would POSSIBLY be interested in reading a book about men killing tuna?” You’ve got to have a thick skin. No matter, I used it for fuel (“I’ll show HIM!) and forged ahead.

Years later when the book was about to be published I asked my friend and journalism school classmate (and your compatriot), Geraldine Brooks, to read it and write a blurb. She, without knowing about that editor’s stinging comment, came up with this opening line: “If you think you do not want to read a book about the death of tuna, think again….”

I was so pleased with my editor and publisher, Perseus Books, distribution and general treatment at Perseus Books that I offered my second book exclusively to them and they took it with just a mini-proposal and a few sample chapters.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write a book based on their own family history or heritage?

As for any book, figure out what makes you passionate about your subject and use that for your motor. If your people immigrated, learn the foreign language you need to learn to do the research on site.

You are working on a new book about Palermo, tell us about this new work?

It’s about good people in the historic centre who love their city, be it the people or the stones, and how they show that love by their actions.  

Do you consider yourself an Italo-American writer or does this classification bother you?

I am Siculo-American (and German–American) whether I like or not, and so far all my books have been about Sicily, so I really couldn’t complain even if it did bother me.

Your writing style is beautifully precise, intense and almost poetic, are you at all influenced by the poetic genre and if so by who.

Thanks for such a wonderful compliment. You know, back in grade school the nuns had us memorize and recite stanzas of nineteenth-century poems. I think something rubs off. I learned to appreciate rhythm and rhyme. Robert Frost is my favourite, but I also liked John Donne. I used to compose poems when I was a kid, but then I quit because I wasn’t very good at it, and for other reasons, but I thought that from then on I would turn my energy to write better declarative sentences.

Also, in journalism school, one professor advised us to read a favourite author the night before writing a piece, because that author will flavour your writing. It is true, and it works.

I actually do write a poem in the morning these days, with my left hand, as a warm-up, and to connect to the right hemisphere of my brain. I think it works and sometimes the poems are funny.

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Do you visit Sicily often? How would you describe contemporary Sicily?

Well, legally, without a visa, I can only be there for three months out of the year. So recently it has been nearly once a year, for three months at a time to get the most value out of a plane ticket.

The second question – too big for my brain.

You have a background as a journalist, do you think this has influenced your writing if so how?

Definitely. You know being classified as an Italian-American writer doesn’t bother me but having my books reviewed as memoirs really grates. Because in memoirs you can filch and make up quotes and facts you supposedly remember from long ago, whereas I consider my books first-person narrative non-fiction. Every word is true. I wrote Mattanza in such a way that it could be fact-checked by the New Yorker, just in case they ever wanted to publish an excerpt. (Never happened.) They might have had a hard time fact-checking the dream I reported, but I do keep a dream journal.

Why do you find yourself returning to Sicily as a subject for your books, I’m sure it’s quite personal, but what captivates you so much about this island?

Sicily has been a good muse, that is true. You cannot beat it for natural beauty, climate, strata of history, cuisine and character of the people. Sicily is also affordable. I don’t have a lot of money, and when I go there I can rent a room in an apartment share or stay with friends who put me up in Catania. I speak Italian, understand a lot of dialects, I’ve done the reading, I have the contacts, I know and love the territory, so it is fertile ground for me. Like I said, you can peel Sicily like an onion and have an ever-deeper understanding of and appreciation for the island. Yes, if I had more money I would expand my territory. I never made it to Corsica in 1986 when I was sidetracked by a Mondello fisherman; I’d still like to go there and explore. I’d like to spend a year on the Isle of Jura, in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, with 5,000 red deer and not 200 people, where George Orwell holed up to write 1984 because the place was “un-get-attable”. But there is a satisfaction in knowing one place really well.

Do you have a favourite Italian or Sicilian author you want to share with us?

I’ve read Lampedusa’s The Leopard four times. I loved Vitaliano Brancati’s Don Giovanni in Sicilia. But Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series I just devour like popcorn. And immediately want more.

Are you working on any other interesting projects?

On the back burner until I sell this book (wish me luck): My video documentary about the incredible feast of Saint Agatha in Catania. It is ready to be edited, and is partially edited, but needs a professional touch and funding.

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A million thanks to Theresa Maggio for answering my questions and for the gift of her beautiful books about Sicily.

Her first Mattanza; love and death in the sea of Sicily is currently out of print but can be tracked down through your local public library while  The stone boudoir; travels through the hidden villages of Sicily is available on Amazon.

While her new book about Palermo is something to look forward to.

To read more about Theresa Maggio see her web page and YouTube channel (Vermont and Sicily), she always graciously replies to emails.

Theresa Maggio

Theresa Maggio says:

I was raised in Carlstadt, NJ, went to Catholic schools from K through 12. Double majored in French and English at Wells College, worked summers at a lodge cum stable in Vermont. Hitchhiked the states and some of Europe, learned to tend bar, cocktail waitressed, became a laser optics technician in Vermont, then was recruited by Los Alamos National Laboratory to work in their captive optics shop. Went to Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and returned to Los Alamos as a science writer, covering, among other divisions, the nuclear weapons designers and the Nevada Test Site. Quit to go live with a fisherman I met on vacation in Mondello, Sicily and the rest is history.

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Conversations with Elio Vittorini and his critics

Elio Vittorini

Elio Vittorini’s Conversations in Sicily has been on my reading list for a while and I was delighted to find the original english translation in the Amazon Kindle store compete with an introduction from Ernest Hemingway so I immediately snapped it up.

However for some unknown reason it was never delivered and after several emails I never got any help or explanation why. Since my credit card was never debited for the purchase I simply dug out my Italian paperback version and I am eternally grateful I did.

Conversazione in Sicilia is such an enigmatic work, at times I loved it and lived the pleasure of this natural conversation between elderly mother and grown up child, between Sicily and Sicilian, yet other times I got lost in the complicated connections, the shorthand, repetition and long windedness of the dialogue confused me. These conversations, like many real ones are fleeting, flippant, mundane and they slip beyond our grip and understanding.

Silvestro is a lost and disillusioned Sicilian living in Milan who gets a letter from his father saying he has left his mother and so he clumsily journeys back down to the island guided by a mixture of nostalgia and indignation for life.

The journey of a long lost Sicilian son who has moved away from his beloved island for many years, retraces his steps back down to his Mediterranean home recalling the harsh desert landscape of the summers in his childhood near Syracuse. Silvestro finds his mother deep in winter hibernation entrenched in timeless Sicula habits, eating food gathered from the countryside, telling mundane personal and family stories, using the ancient dialect, she is a stoic aging Sicilian woman filled with pride, yet with the defeats of life accumulating before her.

Listening into the discussion is like hearing real Sicilians talking, few words are used, they are repeated often, at times there is latent anger or the energy of a forceful interrogation, yet the intonation and energy of the human spirit behind them gives them compelling meaning.

Reading Vittorini’s work in Italian turned out to be a blessing as I think this would be terribly difficult to translate, the cadences of the conversation could be easily lost and the historical context is also tantamount to the correct reading of Conversazione in Sicilia.

We are talking about Fascist Italy and Sicily, a period of great upheaval, Vittorini reflects the disillusionment of his generation, the intellectual wasteland created by the Fascist regime. Silvestro is a victim of ‘estranged furies,’ a sense of loss and slavery, life has lost its meaning, hence the return to his past in the hope of finding some piece of mind.

Elio Vittorini himself (1908-1966) was an influential voice in the Italian modernist school, Conversations is his best known work and he was jailed when it was published in 1941 for its subversive nature. Vittorini was born in Syracuse and moved often around Sicily with his father who worked on the railway. He often ran away from home, leaving Sicily permanently in 1924, eventually settling in Florence. Vittorini’s work began to be published in journals from 1927 and many of his novels and short stories were not published until after the second world war due to Fascist censorship. He learnt English and in 1939 moved to Milan, translating many english language writers works into Italian, including D.H Lawrence, E.A Poe, Faulkner, Galsworthy, Steinbeck and Defoe (some of which also had a profound influence on his own work.)

Peeling away the layers of Silvestro’s train journey down to Sicily in Conversations there are motifs of poetry which takes the reader into the memories of his personal past to witness the discrepancies between memory and real life. The protagonist’s Sicily lives very much in his own memory, a personal myth filled with romanticized memories from the Shakespearian quoting father, to the music of the crickets in the summer and the Zampogne Sicilian bagpipes played during the festive season.

The ambiguous nature of Vittorini’s Conversazione has created scores of interpretations of this book, which adds a wonderful element of depth to this work. Some critics see Silvestro as a mythological hero going through a journey of self discovery akin to Ulysses from Homer’s Odyssey, while others see it as a political work with anti fascist undertones and references to the Spanish civil war, there is also a wave of critics who say the work is echoes the works Vittorini was translating in the same period including Faulkner, Hemingway, Lawrence and Eliot.

What I experiences was a wonderfully concise piece of literature which captures the voice and spirit of a mystifying Sicily while commenting on the contradictions in the Italian society of the fascist period in Italy, like the Italy of today it can be confusing, mind boggling yet ultimately intriguing.

Vittorini has now become one of my Italian literature favorites together with Quasimodo, Pirandello, Verga and Tomasi di Lampedusa. I look forward to discovering evermore in this amazingly rich oeuvre…

 

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For more reading see Michael Dubdin’s review for The Guardian and Conversations in Sicily is Sicily is available through Amazon.

There is also this fine essay about Vittorini by Eric Darton on Frigatezine.

Sicilian’s flare for uttering profanities

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When I was a child I had an Uncle who was terribly capricious, a real joker (he still is until this day) and he took great pleasure in teaching my brother and I all the colourful Italian swear words possible. 

My Uncle thought it was all terribly funny and hoped we’d use them in front of our mother who as a former primary school teacher would be appropriately shocked.

I recently read an article which suggested people who use swear words have down to earth, truthful and logical personalities and using bad language has nothing to do with being bad mannered as traditionally thought.

Cussing is really about being to the point and realistic and simply being rude. This is an interesting take on the subject and I have found people I know who use ‘colorful language’ are genuinely no nonsense types who cut through political correctness with a knife and get to the rough truth below ornamental politeness.

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I’m not looking for an excuse to launch into a litany of four letter words but when it’s needed and apt ‘cuss’ can be more powerful than all the words in a thesaurus.

I have discovered Sicilians have a particular flare for inventing swear words, curses and such phrases, mixing everything with a pinch of blaspheme for good measure.

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My education in vivid ‘Siculu’ cursing has come about thanks to the Sicilian men surrounding me, who could probably write many volumes dedicated to this particular lexicon!

I have heard swear words that are so offensive they would make a sailor blush, I have even heard women use particular words regularly which refer to male and female genitalia.

Sicilian and Italian swearing combines the holy and profane which kicks and spits out venom onto Saints, the Virgin Mary and God himself. I am not going to write any swears here but I will filter them to give you an idea of what I mean (people easily offended can skip the following paragraph.)

When things go wrong Sicilians curse the Saints and certain body parts (usually genitalia), the Madonna and certain animals (mostly pigs) and if they want to be particularly offensive it gets more personal with references to ‘your sisters privates.’

There I said it, I have never heard such colorful cuss words as here in Sicily, it’s ‘profanely’ confusing!

Thanks to the Sicilian’s curses I’ve learn the filthiest words possible about certain body parts, the names of animals, apparently animals with horns are particularly offensive as they refer to ‘cuckold’ men (an archaic term in English referring to a husband with an adulterous wife). Ridiculing Saints seems to be a popular way of insulting others and letting off steam when things are not going your way.

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Images c/o: http://youngadventuress.com/ and http://italianowithjodina.com/

 

Literary Islands: Giuseppe di Lampedusa

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Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard (Il gattopardo) is my favorite Sicilian novel of all time. The sumptuous world of the Prince of Salina is a precious link to Sicily’s baroque aristocracy. It also inspired one of the best international cinematic productions with the classic 1963 film adaptation directed by Luchino Visconti starring Burt Lancaster as the prince.

The Leopard’s author was a bit of an anomaly in himself, a painfully shy, reclusive, Sicilian nobel, whose novel was finally published after his death at the same time as Jack Kerouac’s modern free spontaneous prose masterpiece On the Road exploded onto the scene in the states. You could not find a work so contrary to its times as this elaborate historical novel, yet it is still the most poignant and truthful portrait of the Sicilian mentality, I’ve ever read.

The Leopard is an essential guide to understanding the nature of the Sicilian character.

I’m even going to bore you by sharing some quotes and points which I had to edit out of my travel book because I found myself ranting on too much about The Leopard. I implore you, most adamantly to read this book if you love and want to understand Sicily.

In chapter four of The Leopard titled Love at Donnafugata, Lampedusa illustrates why Sicily and Sicilians are the way they are. In this chapter the main character Don Fabrizio is visited by Cavaliere Chevalley, an official delegate of the royal house of Turin who invites the Prince to become a minister in the first government of the new Italian Republic. The Prince refuses and in a complex speech to Chevalley he explains why the changes in Italy will have little effect in Sicily and vividly describes the true nature of the islanders.

According to the Prince, Sicilians are products of their own history and the elements which have shaped their culture are the very ones which have shaped Sicily politically and physically. ‘Sicilians are accustomed to a long succession of rulers who were not of their religion nor spoke their language. If they had not learned to support the foreign influences Sicilians would never have coped with the invaders.

The stoic adherence to a doctrine of simply out living invader’s has created a severe lethargy in the Sicilians’ character which makes them timeless. ‘In Sicily it doesn’t matter about doing things well or badly, the sin Sicilians never forgive is simply that of doing at all. The island is very old, for many centuries Sicilians have been bearing the weight of superb, powerful civilizations, all from outside, for centuries Sicily has been a colony. This is not a complaint, it has created a fault in the Sicilian’s character.’

‘Sicily has become worn out and exhausted by this weight. It is because of this that Sicilians crave sleep and they will always hate anyone who tries to wake them, even in order to bring them the most wonderful gifts.’ According to Lampedusa Sicily suffers from an exotic type of sleep illness, which is routed in a sense of self denial and escapism. It is Sicily’s sleep that keeps the society revolving around itself, in a cycle that never wants to be broken.

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Sicilians’ sleep creates a strange sort of limbo, an alternative perspective which is neither part of this life nor the next, but which has more in common with the absence of life rather than its living. ‘All Sicilian self expression even the most violent is really wish fulfilment; their sensuality is a hankering for oblivion, their shooting and knifing a hankering for death, a desire for voluptuous immobility that is for death again, their meditative air is that of a void wanting to scrutinise the enigmas of Nirvana. From this comes the power of certain people, those half awake to cause the dragging of time in Sicily’s artistic and intellectual life; novelties attracting attention when they are dead, incapable of arousing vital currents; from that comes the phenomenon of the constant formation of myths which would be venerable if they were only really ancient, but which are really nothing but sinister attempts to plunge them back into a past that attracts them only because it’s dead.’

Then there are the shaping elements of the natural environment which leave their mark on the Sicilians. Lampedusa comments on how: ‘the violence of the landscape, the cruelty of climate, this continual tension in everything and even the monuments of the past, magnificent yet incomprehensible because they were not built by Sicilians and yet surround them like lovely mute ghosts. All those rulers who landed at Sicily, who were at once obeyed, soon detested and always misunderstood; their sole means of expression, enigmatic works of art and taxes which were spent elsewhere. All these have formed Sicily’s character which has been so conditioned by events outside the population’s control as well as by a terrifying insularity of mind.’

Sicily’s contrasting elements are reflected by a deep paradox in the Sicilian’s character which comes from the tremendous pride they have for their island. ‘Sicilians never want to improve for the simple reason that they think themselves perfect; their vanity is stronger than their misery. Every invasion by outsiders whether so by origin or, if Sicilian, by independence of spirit, upsets their illusion of achieved perfection; having been trampled on by a dozen different peoples they think they have an imperial past which gives them a right to a grand funeral.’

Sicily has been the perceived jewel of many conquerors who have seen the island’s treasures and have tried to overpower and develop Sicily to fit their own agendas, with no success. ‘How many Moslem imâms, how many of King Roger’s knights how many Swabian scribes, how many Angevin barons, how many jurists of the most catholic King have conceived the same folly and how many Spanish viceroys too. … Sicily wanted to sleep in spite of their invocations; for why should she listen to them if she herself is rich, if she’s wise, if she’s civilised, if she’s honest, if she’s admired and envied by all, if in a word she’s perfect?’

The most authoritative translation of Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard is translated by Archibald Colquhoun and is available on amazon and now also as an ebook published through Random House.

Be sure to read this great essay about the literary influence of The Leopard titled The Leopard turns 50 written by Rachel Dandy and published in the New York Times on the fiftieth anniversary of its publication in America.

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(Images from Google)

 

Footnotes:

1 Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard. Translated by Archibald Colquhoun. (London: The Folio Society,1988),120.

2 Ibid., 123.

 

Next on Literary Islands, something more contemporary. An interview with travel writer Brian Johnston and his wonderful Summer in Sicily.

Literary Islands: Vitaliano Brancati

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I stumbled upon Vitaliano Brancati quite by accident in a bookstore at Messina. I was attracted by the title of one his books, I discovered after he was quite a prolific novelist and later his most famous novel Il Bel Antonio was developed into a movie staring Marcello Mastroianni, which became a classic of Italian cinema.

Being an opera fan I liked the idea of a pseudo Don Giovanni being set in Sicily. Taking the novella home I discovered a rich caricature of the Sicilian male taken to strange extremes yet which has a core honesty that goes beyond any form of realism.

The main character, Giovanni Percolla is a master of the aristocratic Sicilian art of doing nothing, he sleeps a lot, chases after women with a voracious sexual appetite and lives at home with his two spinster sisters who spoil him terribly.

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Brancati has created a rich grotesque baroque caricature, Giovanni’s world is dysfunctional and his sisters are as absurd as our Sicilian Don Giovanni is. The sisters claim to be war widows as statically so many young men died during the war that one of them was bound to have been their husband if they had married.

Everything changes when Giovanni falls in love, gets married to Ninetta and he tries to get ahead in life by moving up North to Milan where he works more, sleeps less and adopts a bizarre routine of taking cold showers to develop strength and immunity.

The couple return to Sicily after failing to adapt to life in Northern Italy. Socially they have been rejected and ostracized by the northerners and the are demoralized by the literal and metaphorical coldness of the North.

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Giovanni suffers a physical and mental collapse due to the lack of sleep and returns to the opened arms of Sicily a pale, sickly and haggard shadow of himself.

Their return to the bosom of Sicily at first seems a defeat, yet after reviving himself with beautiful Sicilian slumber and sunshine he returns to a blessed routine of comfort.

Part cautionary tale, satire and caricature Don Giovanni in Sicily is masterfully written and is one of the most succinct, beautifully written Sicilian novellas I’ve ever read.

Browsing Amazon there is a translation of Don Giovanni in Sicily but it only has one review so I’m not sure of the quality of the translation. I suggest browsing around the likes of AbeBooks to see if there is another translation which looks better.

 

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(Images: Thanks to Google)

10 books to read instead of visiting Sicily

I’m big on reading and the journey books can create in your life. If you can’t travel a book can give you an authentic experience without leaving your armchair.

Sometimes travelling isn’t always possible but this is no reason not to experience a place through its literature. Sicily has inspired many locals and foreigners with its history and unique character while the Sicilian migrant diaspora has created a rich selection of island inspired literature all over the world.

So if Italy is out of your reach dip into my personal reading list to experience Sicily in all of its splendour.

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   The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

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This is a wonderful historic novel set in the  world of the ancient Sicilian aristocracy is filled with sumptuousness and decadent expressions of baroque Sicily. This classic work of literature written by one of the islands most famous writers and superbly crafted with many truths about the nature of Sicily.

 Sweet Lemons: Writings With a Sicilian Accent Edited by Venera Fazio and Delia De Santis

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This anthology published in Canada collects the best of Sicilian literature and contemporary migrant voices. (Ahem, including this humble blogger) Self promotion aside it is a must read for those keen in having a general taste of contemporary Sicilian culture and migrant literature from all around the world.

The Stone Boudoir: Travels Through the Hidden Villages of Sicily by Theresa Maggio

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Theresa Maggio is one of my favourite writers her works are filled with gorgeous description, refreshing brevity and a stunning understanding of her subject matter. Her writing style is poetic, vivid and simple. Total magic.

Mattanza: Love and Death in the Sea of Sicily by Theresa Maggio

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Here is another book from Ms Maggio, I couldn’t resist putting this one on the list simply for its mixture of autobiography and travel writing. It documents an ancient Sicilian tradition and Maggio’s own personal love story. This one is currently out of print but if you can manage to track it down through a public library it would be worth the trouble. I also managed to interview Theresa Maggio a while ago, click here to read our conversation.

 On Persephone’s Island: A Sicilian Journal by Mary Taylor Simeti

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This personal journal depicts Taylor Simeti’s unique journey to Sicily and is an authentic portrait of life on this ancient island. Her writing is strong, honest and stunningly beautiful. Simeti is considered a living legend, she has written many books about Sicilian food and has a business based on the island’s traditional agriculture.

 A House in Sicily by Daphne Phelps

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This is a little dated now but it is a wonderful biography of a colourful English dame who inherits a house near Taormina and ends up moving to Sicily in the post world war two and ends up staying forever. This classic is currently out of print but it is a wonderful book which will make you fall in love with the idea of Sicily and the late Daphne Phelp’s quirky adventures running a guest house with terribly famous guests in the then semi rural town of Taormina.

 Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb

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Peter Robb is an Australian journalist who spent many years living and working in Palermo, Sicily. It is a heavy book to make your way through filled with loads of history but it is great for anyone who wants to know the real facts behind real life politics and the mafia in Sicily.

The Volcano by Venero Armanno

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 This is a prime example of superb Australian migrant literature, Armanno is a son of Sicilian migrants who uses the magic of his parent’s Sicily for the backdrop to this wonderfully crafted novel. It is an epic journey through the Etna hinterlands from a cruel time and tracks the journey of a migrant to Australia. I spoke to Venero Armanno about this book and the other two which make up his Sicilian trilogy, click here to read more about this fascinating author.

Sicilian Summer: a story of honour, religion and the perfect Cassata by Brian Johnston

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Sicily is an inspiring place, in fact Johnston spent only a summer here in Sicily and wrote this beautiful portrait. Johnston is a well known Australian travel writer and this book is filled with his signature observations and love of fine food. This little gem is out of print but if you want to know more about it be sure to read my interview with Brian Johnston here.

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Seeking Sicily: A Cultural Journey Through Myth and Reality in the Heart of the Mediterranean by John Keahey

Keahey is an American journalist who has written extensively about Italy and offers us many absorbing elements of Sicilian culture, history and literature. Keahey’s journalistic eye and sense of story is impeccable, through extensive and detailed interviews with many proud Sicilians he digs below any superficial mask to get to the heart of this place with insightful, rich and evocative insight.

I recently spoke to John Keahey, click here to hear more about this great Italophile.

(images from google images)

Being a writer in Sicily

Ok, I know it’s a bit pithy but I think we are all writers in the way we create our own narratives and lives. The the endless dialogues we have each day, our own internal monologue and interactions are all pieces of writing.

As life progresses it gives us different masks to wear which allows us to create the different parts of our journey: son/daughter, student, sister/brother, girlfriend/boyfriend, wife/husband, lover, parent, professional, in-law, grandparent … our roles are endless.

The experiences we choose in life dictate the richness of our own unique narrative. The business of writing as a profession takes the natural ability we all have to a different level documenting and crafting each word on the page, whether it be on the virtual ‘page’ of a computer screen or scribbling in a notebook.

I love new ideas and writing helps me to explore different areas which in turn stimulate other interests and move me into other directions. It’s an addiction which gives me an appetite to understand this world. I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of asking questions.

Sicily has become an extensive part of my story, it is a piece of my family’s history and speaks to me so eloquently.

Randazzo side streets, Catania

Moving to Sicily has been a challenge and I struggle everyday with the culture shock, but realistically it is a fantastic place to be a writer. Stories literally come up to you and introduce themselves, others slap you in the face or make friends with you doing a casual conversation. The slower paced life is conducive to reflection and the writerly life sits well with this place. In fact the island has produced many famous writers, who are an inspiration to me. Pirandello, Verga, De Roberto, Brancanti and Quasimodo are my favourites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are you writing with your life?