Women's History Month: Gioseffi and Barolini | Italics

welcome to italics television for the italian-american experience I’m your host Anthony thambu 3 March is Women’s History Month a time in which we reflect upon the advances made by and for women and remind ourselves that women still are not fully emancipated in our society as women’s rights are again increasingly under attack their access to facilities that aid in their autonomy and well-being rapidly closing down across the country this episode of italics is dedicated to honoring the struggle of women and celebrating those in our community who have expressed through their art and their activism the stories of women and the need for liberation we will talk with two icons of Italian poetry and literature champions of social justice and advocates of the emancipation of women poet and activist Daniella Giuseppe joins us here in our studio to talk about her latest book pioneering italian-american culture escaping La Veta della cucina we will also talk about forging into the mainstream in the 60s and 70s as a woman with an italian-american name and breaking the silence for italian-american women correspondent Lucia Greenlaw takes us to Hastings on Hudson for a visit with seminal feminist author Helen Bertolini to talk about her most widely known influential works the novel of Athena and the dream book how they paved the way for marginalized voices and still hold up today reflecting the urgent need for such voices now more than ever from civil rights worker in journalists in Selma Alabama during the era of the Freedom Riders with written works that span theater poetry and books such as women on war the first book of world literature to gather the global voices of women on the issues of war and its impact on their lives an icon of our community and the world beyond joining us in our studio is Daniela Giuseppe Daniela welcome to italics I’m so pleased to be with you good let’s start from the beginning you were a freedom rider you here’s this young Italian American woman who decides that she’s got to get involved and has to do something about what was going on in the early 60s it was a hard experience for you yes it was I was an intern journalist at W SLA TV I was only 20 years old and because of my Italian father I was still quite innocent and virginal and I went down south to learn to be the next day Emerson the next great spokeswoman on TV and which was my dream at that time and I was naive in a way I had been in school in Newark with african-american students so it wasn’t strange to me to live in an integrated world but I integrated deep south television in a day when it wasn’t done I went on an all-black gospel show announcing Freedom Rides and sit-ins the next morning there was a burning cross on the lawn there were watermelons thrown at the station and I was taken to the jail in the middle of the night and abused when no one was looking by an assistant sheriff of Montgomery County what I didn’t realize at the time is there were no there was no law it wasn’t like you could call the police the police were the Klan and so I got myself in quite a deep amount of trouble but I never told my Italian father he would have had a heart attack so I kept that a secret my abuse by the Klan a secret until I was over 50 and I wrote the bleeding mimosa the story of that experience a fiction based the story you mentioned your Italian father and you talk about your father your father in your works and in fact there’s one poem which actually talks about his sort of we might say progressive thinking no and and I wonder how much he influenced you as far as being someone to look out for others well he had such a tenacious spirit and he had worked so hard to become what he was he was one of the first Italian immigrants to win a Phi Beta Kappa in the liberal arts and a sigma Tsai in the sciences and he worked his way through Union College and then Columbia University to become a chemical engineer and an inventor he was extremely compassionate and understanding and yet he said to me why does a girl want to go to college you’re only going to get married and have babies when I wanted to go to school so I had to work my way through Montclair State University checking hats working in a drugstore babysitting all kinds of odd jobs and in the end he was always saying to me if

only he had three daughters and he would say if only I had a son to carry on the name and he was so proud of being an Italian and but then when I finally did begin publishing he said you’re as good as any son so we had closure he said you put my name in the Library of Congress he was so so proud of that and yet he was my inspiration because he was the one who read to me great literature when I was young Don pay Shakespeare Cervantes he was reading to me when I was only 10 and so when the one hand he inspired me but on the other hand it was a bit of a double bind yeah yeah well I’m sure a lot that that double bind I’m sure was common with a lot of not just Italian Americans but other other immigrant children I suspect you know yes and even someone has written an essay I think it was Mary Ann Menino saying that women of my generation were more inspired by their fathers to be something in the world and to go out and have a career more than their mothers all my aunt’s my Italian ants my mother they were all seamstresses in factories doing piece where which I thought was PE AC II when I was a little girl yeah yeah and so I my only example of someone who made his way in the world was my father and so his desire to have a son to carry on the name was a great inspiration to me and when did you start writing oh I was writing from a very young age I was reading Shakespeare Edna st. Vincent Millay and Walt Whitman when I was in my teens and I started writing a diary and writing poetry in my early teens I would say since I was 11 12 13 and then I began publishing and during the new wave of feminism in the 60s and at that time I was the only Italian female name in any of those feminist books of the new wave of feminism along with Diane de prima on the west coast we were the only names you could find in those big anthologies of feminist poetry and literature during the 60s and 70s and your first book was a book of poetry and then you followed soon thereafter with a novel correct yes I did eggs in the lake which was very much about being a feminist we have two books with us so we’ll talk about the books a little bit because if somebody wants to get an idea of a sort of trajectory of your writing and your thinking throughout your career thus far they can pick up pioneering Italian American culture why don’t you talk to us a little bit about this book and really how it came about too because it’s not just your book it is your book in sit in the sense of most of your writings are in there but someone decided to pay you homage well Angelina oh bird Anne it was her inspiration to put together all the essays I had written the reviews I had written of other italian-american writers and my experience as an italian-american woman as forging her way into the mainstream of American literature where I was published through the 60s and 70s before there were any Italian female names besides Diana Freeman the mainstream you are very much an happen and are very much a social activist you’re also an editor activists and let’s say in that sense and that you really get people moving and that’s and that’s really good and you you’ve done that also in with working with someone like I’ll stay to the pal ki and the Buddha to get a poetry prize and other projects getting funded yes it was wonderful when I interested afraid of d Pocky and the Sonia Iesus foundation to be involved with the board Agera prize it was such a thrill that we’ve now published what fifteen other points bilingual editions which was a wonderful thing and we’ve all discovered each other we truly have a community now and if I was thrilled when you and Fred were putting together from the margins and I was able to bring some others to you I know you other people helped as well of course but I was thrilled that we were beginning to have a community and then Ishmael Reed asked me to write an essay about our own burgeoning Renaissance in Italian American literature for his Viking book multiculturalism and I won the American Book Award for being a multicultural pioneer actually my book on prejudice a global perspective was one of the first to include the sorrows of the italian-american and the prejudice against the italian-american which has often been neglected it’s important that we branch out that we don’t stay within our own community it’s important for us obviously to work within our community but it’s important that we branch out because in this way we become part of a

national discourse whereas I think with all the work that many people who have preceded us did sometimes they stayed too close to home yes and and didn’t really negotiate the larger discussion I think that that you have been able to do it’s very important for us not to stay insular because we want to tell our stories to the world they’re really universal I feel that when I wrote my book of stories in bed with the exotic enemy I was trying to say that prejudice is a universal thing also with on prejudice a global perspective that there is sexism racism homophobia monocultural ISM and we all need to be proud of our heritage but at the same time see that we’re part of the universal humanity yeah exactly what were some of your experiences when you first started to try and publish I sort of felt a bit like a tarantella dancer trying to do a classic ballet when I entered the mainstream because because I had so much passion in my poetry which wasn’t really stylish in the age of TS Eliot actually dr. reberty Ella wrote a book called the wasp mystique in which he found that all of his ethnic patients of of every background african-american Jewish American Italian American Latino were having difficulty fashioning themselves into what is the polite anglo-saxon style which dominated America but now there’s been a burgeoning of multiculturalism and we’re allowed to show our passions and talk with our hands and be more ethnic than we were allowed to back when I started talking about poets who have preceded us still fascinated by the fact that certain poets and I’ll name one john chardy still seems to fall off the radar scream in spite of how important he was within American culture a couple of decades ago book came out about poetry about American poetry and he’s not in that book and I thought it was kind of strange because he was the first one to make poetry a household word it was the first one to bring it to PBS television he published in the Saturday Review he was an important editor Lawrence Ferlinghetti too has published the most popular book ever in the United States a big best-selling the most best-selling poetry book a Coney Island of the mine it’s been in print it’s still in print it’s sold over a million copies and yet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and John GRT have not never won a Pulitzer or a National Book Award though their names that have promoted poetry the whole Beat Generation wouldn’t have existed without growing Eddie City Lights bookstore the most famous book store for literature in the entire world and the best-selling book and he’s been awarded everything from from the French from the Italians he’s had so many awards and yet not the American I mean not the American Awards of the Pulitzer Prize or the National Book Award or the American Book Award the major one so it’s it’s surprising and I don’t know why that is I remember that she already writes a poem about how his name was mispronounced the Rd he write he wrote about how he was angry when Robert Lowell called him the best Italian American poet in the country instead of just the the best American poet so it’s a mystery why this continues I just wanted to let our audience know that there is a documentary in the works that Anton Evangelista is doing on your life and I’m not sure when it’ll be completed but I think by September okay by September of this year great yes I’m thrilled about that he’s titled it author and activist so that’s nice although I’ve always had two feet one in the italian-american community one in the mainstream one in activism and one in literature so I feel as I’ve been striving to icebergs that could float apart any minute but but really the one the one in italian-american culture and the one in American culture is really I think you’ve proven it to some degree it’s what we need to do yeah to be able to keep the italian-american alive and yet enter into what you have often called mainstream dominant culture whatever whatever label we want to give it because we really are a part of the mainstream even though we’re proud of our Italian heritage well listen I want to thank you for coming thank you so much living much of her adult life between the United States and Italy her works a bridge between the two expressing the experiences of women in both lands in the past and in contemporary times Helen Bertolini is one of our community’s most beloved authors her character speaking directly to descendants and immigrants and extending further lauded by such peers as Alice Walker let’s go to Hastings on Hudson with correspondent Lucia Grillo for an

afternoon chat with author Helen Bertolini thank you for joining us on italics thank you for this occasion it’s great to have you especially for a Women’s History Month yes in your vast body of work and in your advocacy of the works of others you’ve done a lot through your own literature and what we’ll call your you’re proactive insistence that italian-american women writers be heard yeah your work has been widely recognized lauded by the italian-american community and by such as the New York Times Book Review and Alice Walker let’s start with your story after college I had a grant to study in England and when I was in England I knew that what I really wanted to do was to get to Italy I didn’t want to go back after the grant was over so I started writing travel pieces for the newspaper in Syracuse where I come from and that took me to Italy and once I got to Italy I had a letter of introduction to a journalist who perhaps could help me find material that journalist was Antonio bartolini so he was helpful I was there for about a year and then I came back home but I miss Antonio and we correspondent and then finally he tried to get the clearance to come over to the States but there was such a law in that period the McCarran law that they thought if Antonio had been anti-fascist which he was during the war he was in hiding he must be a communist he had been editor of his paper in Vicenza and had written against the fascist regime but anyway he couldn’t come so I went back to Italy and lived there until he became a correspondent for La Stampa the newspaper in Turin and then we came to New York and you were translating his works yes and my first books were books of poetry and then after that came the grant from the National Endowment for the Arts from which I could start a bully’s work which was in Bertina your groundbreaking anthology the dream book was the first anthology of italian-american writers who are all women we might assume as with any other endeavor that there were challenges well I felt very fortunate the chalk and really wanted to take it on because I thought it was a difficult subject to launch I don’t know how many in the wider public would be interested in just italian-american women writers but I felt that there were a number of us who hadn’t been recognized and we were present and that if they were if we were all brought together in one place that gave us a distinction and a following in your original introduction of the same anthology the dream book in the section titled the historical and social context of silence you began quoting a question to ask rather than why italian-american women were silent so long is what were the conditions that impeded the act of writing can you tell us about those conditions and how they changed for you personally and for others well I think italian-american women going way back to when they first got here were workers they had to work to survive here and then there was family and then there was a tradition itself I mean Italian tradition is very hard for women I think in some ways they were thought to be the mothers the caretakers the family the home so you know there was a lot of that here among Italian Americans what are the conditions that impede writing now are they different from when you started no they’re just much more competition and there are fewer publishers unfortunately and also there’s great emphasis on mass market and I think that maybe our material seems too restricted what do you think that Italian American literature hasn’t been accepted as American literature I

think it does has to be taught and and more disseminated because I just don’t think people are aware of it have you ever thought of how it should be more how it should be disseminated more well somebody’s got to have a great bestseller like Mario Puzo did and you know that should have in a way opened up for the rest of us but I don’t think it is enough I opened up the Mafia genre right what’s right because I had that’s not always his work because his fortunate pilgrim isn’t that well-known and that would have if that had been the book yes I made it things would have been different can you imagine the stories we all have stories your film yeah yeah let’s come to embed Athena what place does it hold for you within your own body of work well I always thought of it more as a feminist novel than an italian-american novel because the main protagonists are women and they’re women who achieved something and I think that’s what I was thinking you know because when it was written that was in the times when the woman’s movement was very strong and it was something that I very much believed in do you consider when Bette Tina your best novel oh well you know I’m sort of fond of all know it was very important for me it was it was a real breakthrough to have accepted and published you know but Tina you talk about Marguerite’s and and perhaps all women’s to have their own identity you say in the book she had no official presence with which to impress people and help them recognize her and yet she did and then you go on to list details of her accomplishments and her losses in her hopes this is a quote from the book and still no one saw her she could no more exist alone than does a painting without viewers or the Grand Canyon without tourists her existence depended on others how could she get them to know by Jesus that she was here this was reflective of your of your introduction to the most recent edition of the dream book regarding the acknowledgement of Italian American women writers and it’s a recurring theme what does it mean on a societal level that marginalized people’s voices be heard well we’ve had the feminist movement since then I think things have come around but there was a time when when it was very hard for women to be perceived in their own right they were always the accessory they were the wife the mother so on but you know but I think that has very much changed the grandmother is also recurring consideration in your work for again from Oh Bettina this is a quote Marguerite Marguerite wondered if her own fears were worse now than those faced by that kind of Calabrian peasant her grandmother I oh she says I always fantasized about my grandmother I always thought I wanted to get back to her elementary kind of existence her kind of primitive strength do we carry this strength of the immigrant with a love the immigrant women I hope so I hope so in a different way maybe more modernized but I I think we have learned from the past that’s what we should do do you carry it with you I mean you said that you’ve mentioned that you didn’t really know your grandmother but that image of her and this wanting to know who she was I I think so I think that’s what led me to go off on my own go to Europe go to Italy and do what I did I I see them as symbols and I see them as reinforcing our own dreams to go ahead and admire their strength and what they had to overcome writing from the point of view of italian-american experience you say found Bettina what was her story who is she and I knew all those years later that was the story I wanted to write the son recognized other if these books are not published and available to a wide audience than the actual people themselves are become kind of invisible exactly yes well because I always had this thought of my grandmother with whom I could not communicate at all and she was always this woman in the kitchen doing the cooking and we were the family out in the other rooms of being very festive and everything and I always thought who is this woman in the kitchen she’s my grandmother but who is she I couldn’t speak to her all I could say was comme

si grandma and then she would Pat me you know and ban they banned it but no no I had to create her I had to create her for myself really because I wanted to know her story she couldn’t talk to me and I couldn’t talk to her but I knew from where she came so I studied a bit of the immigration from Calabria and and the background of the people there I went to club tookest I knew where she was from yes yes when I took that trip with my cousin I found this and is this chestnut wood oh I don’t know what it is but it’s Calabria I saw you know the hard life those people had and I could understand why they came in droves to America when Bertino was very pressing on me because I had lived in Italy I had gone to where she came from I had seen the environment and the people and all that so that was natural to start from there it was of its time it was a time when we were getting back to roots and so that was very powerful we were all thinking oh well what is roots in my life you know and we were getting back to that what were some of the challenges then living in Italy and in that particular time oh and I’m flipping in Italy it was my golden age in that circle we knew all the writers montalais Calvino and everybody you know really it was it was very inspiring what are your thoughts on how Italians view Italian Americans they seem to think that it was the lower class the ones who left and that was good let them go as a matter of fact yes I have often thought that in a way I have lifted myself by marrying a real Italian who was already professionally known and was an accepted writer if I had gone there just as myself an Italian American it would have been different I think and I am working now on my memoir I’m really looking forward to that thank you thank you for joining us italics joined artists in members of the New York Community for chalk the first ten years commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire the remember the triangle fire coalition hit the streets on March 25th to write the names of 146 workers most of them young immigrant women and girls who were killed that fateful day in 1911 forthcoming events at the John D Calandra italian-american Institute April 16th Texan Italian stories directed by Sergio Carvajal Leone followed by a post screening discussion with the director and producer led by Rosangela bleach as a of the Calandra Institute April 24 through 26 Mafia’s realities and representations of organized crime the calendar italian-american Research Institute’s annual scholarly conference takes on the theme of mafias for the first time covering a broad variety of manifestations of organized crime throughout the world and over time new on italics TV Donna Kirikou talks with Anthony tambuti Dean of the calendar Institute about his most recent publication rereading Italian Americana watch it at youtube.com slash italics TV thank you for tuning in to this episode of italics tune in to our next episode of italics airing April 30th watch previous editions of italics on CUNY TV slash o / italics and web extras including the full version of the interviews you just saw on our italics YouTube channel italics TV I’m Anthony tambuti arrivederci la prossima poom Tata we’ll leave you with Kairos Italy theatres Tosca and the two downstairs running through March 30th at the COPO Alberta in Manhattan you