Below you'll find Dr. Donato's introduction to the Spring 2020 issue of Il Postino, the Graziadio Center's semesterly newsletter. To read the rest of this semester's issue, visit the Il Postino tumblr page or download it in PDF format!
A Message from Dr. Donato
Dear Friends of the George L. Graziadio Center,
As many of you know, we were planning a spring full of wonderful lectures and events, all of which we have had to either cancel or postpone. But newsletters, like Il Postino, allow us to communicate at least some of our good news, and maybe bring a little cheer, during the dreary days that have us all locked in at home. And being a center for Italian studies, we, at the Graziadio Center, are keenly aware of the ways in which the coronavirus has ravaged Italy, her citizens, residents, migrant population, visitors, and admirers. We are devastated by the pain and suffering that fill our computer and television screens with familiar monuments and sites that have temporarily become places of desperation and despair. But as Boccaccio did so long ago when he wrote the Decameron in reaction to the Bubonic plague of the fourteenth century that decimated the population of Florence, we turn to literature, and by extension, art, music, and theater, as places where the human spirit, no matter how ravaged, may seek, and find, solace. That is the power of the arts, and of literature in this particular case, for what Boccaccio wrote some seven hundred years ago comforts us as readers who are today living a strikingly similar reality to his.
We faculty members in the field of literature at CSULB, as writers and scholars of writers, celebrate and interpret the ongoing and evolving relevance of writers who have contributed stories that continue to sustain us. Sometimes, they are authors who have yet to receive the recognition they deserve, observers of the human condition through a particular prism that draws us so forcefully into their world that we laugh, cry, denounce, and extoll along with them in a virtual gesture of recognition. West coast Italian American writer, John Fante, is one of those authors, and his masterpiece, Ask the Dust, was to be feted on April 23, 2020 at the CSULB Karl Anatol Center. On that day, a book launch of John Fante’s “Ask the Dust”: A Joining of Voices and Views, edited by Stephen Cooper, English, and myself, published by Fordham University Press, was supposed to take place. The event would have featured several of the contributors to the volume, which collects a multiplicity of reflections and readings of John Fante’s classic novel, offering testament to the work’s impact on readers—past, present, and future. Well, the event is being postponed until the Fall, but the book is out, and below you can see Steve, holding it up proudly, in a photograph taken the day our copies arrived in the mail! We shared a virtual clink of glasses as we reflected on five years of hard work, and all of the people, literally the world over, who contributed and want to see John Fante receive his due. You may hold up a virtual glass yourselves as you gaze at this photo—or you may wait until the Fall. In any case, the testimonials for recognition of Fante’s classic are now in print, ready for the reading, along with Ask the Dust itself.
Another piece of good news our program would like to share is the selection of graduate student, Emily Cota, to the 2020 College of Liberal Arts, Dean’s List of Graduating Master Students, University Scholars and Artists. Emily’s accomplishments reflect superbly on our program as a whole and are representative of what hard work and talent, when combined, can produce. This celebration, too, must be postponed, but that takes nothing from the enormity of the accomplishment!
And speaking to the achievements of our MA students in Italian, let me proudly share a photo of five students who presented papers at the Italian American Studies Association conference in Houston, October 31–November 1, 2019.
Left to right: Emily Cota, Abigail Gonzalez, Brandon Bisby, Alessandra Balzani, and Leslie Chavez. Not pictured: Bria Pellandini, who presented virtually from her study abroad program in Rome.
Finally, let me comment briefly on what I found to be one of the most uplifting moments in this entire crisis: the speech, in Italian, by the Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, on the tarmack at the airport of Tirana, where he sent off a group of thirty doctors and nurses departing for Italy to assist in the fight to save lives. His words resonate with commitment and solidarity:
“Non siamo privi di memoria: non possiamo non dimostrare all'Italia che l'Albania e gli albanesi non abbandonano mai un proprio amico in difficoltà. Oggi siamo tutti italiani, e l’Italia deve vincere e vincerà questa anche per noi, per l'Europa e il mondo intero” (We are not without memory. We cannot back down from showing Italy that Albania and the Albanians never abandon a friend in need. Today we are all Italians, and Italy must, and will win this battle, for us, for Europe, and for the entire world).
Until we meet again,