Author of Historical Novels on Italian Immigrants to Host Workshop and Book Discussion in Cleveland

May 29, 2014 1422

By Pamela Dorazio Dean and Serena Scaiola, Consul of Italy in Cleveland

USA Today bestselling author Pamela Schoenewaldt will host two events in June at the Western Reserve Historical Society. The success of her first book presentation in 2011 prompted Hon.

Consul Serena Scaiola and WRHS Curator for Italian American History Pamela Dorazio Dean to renew the invitation to Schoenewaldt to return in front of the Cleveland audience with her second labor of love.

"We are very grateful to the author for renewing her collaborations with us, and look forward to her reading and presentations," the two organizers said.

On Friday, June 13, 2014 from 2:00-4:00pm, Schoenewaldt will lead a workshop called "Writing About Family." This fun, interactive workshop is open to anyone interested in discovering a new perspective about family and family history through writing prompts and exercises. No prior writing experience required. Attendees should bring a few family photos, something to write with and on, and the ability to amaze themselves. The cost to attend is $25 and advanced registration is required.
On Sunday, June 15, 2014 from 2:00-3:30pm, Schoenewaldt will present her newest novel Swimming in the Moon, which is set during the 1900s in immigrant communities of Cleveland, including Little Italy. The presentation will take place in the beautifully restored Hay Garden, where guests will enjoy refreshments while they learn about the novel and its development. This program is FREE with admission to WRHS.

Both events are presented by the Consulate of Italy in Detroit and the Hon. Consulate of Italy in Cleveland, in partnership with the Western Reserve Historical Society, the Northern Ohio Italian American Foundation, The Laura and Alvin Siegal Center for Lifelong Learning at Case Western Reserve University, and the WRHS Genealogy Committee. Contact Pamela Dorazio Dean to register or for more information or 216-721-5722 ext. 1523 or

Schoenewaldt's inspiration to write stories about Italy and Italian immigrants grew through her relationship with her husband Maurizio Conti, an Italian physicist. Together they lived in Naples for ten years while he worked at the university. This gave Schoenewaldt a taste of what it is like to be an immigrant.

Schoenewaldt explains, "I was welcomed in a warm community in a beautiful land, but still I was a stranger, always different, always referred to as l'Americana. So this sensitized me to the challenges of immigrants in America. When I moved back in 2000, I began working on initiatives for immigrant rights. The two interests collided and I seem to have found my niche. Also during the time I was in Italy, I met so many people whose family members had gone to America, or gone and come back, and these stories worked on my imagination. What would it have been like, for instance, to leave Naples and travel to America a hundred years ago? I wanted to put myself there and write that story."

Swimming in the Moon is Schoenewaldt's second novel about Italian immigrants in America during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and would not exist without the WRHS Italian American Collection.

Invited to Cleveland and Youngstown by Hon. Consul Serena Scaiola in 2011 to present her first novel When We Were Strangers, Schoenewaldt spent time sifting through materials from the Collection including lists of names and professions of people in Little Italy and photographs from the Hiram House and Big Italy. She also learned of the 1911 Cleveland Garment Workers Strike, something she worked into the story.

During her writing process, Schoenewaldt regularly referred to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History and bombarded Pamela Dorazio Dean, Curator for Italian American History, with questions. "Just knowing that I had access to this treasure trove of history," says Schoenewaldt, "kept me grounded and inspired as I pieced out the story."

Swimming in the Moon centers on two characters, fourteen-year old Lucia and her young mother Teresa who, in 1904 when the story opens, are servants in a magnificent villa on the Bay of Naples. Unpleasant circumstances urge them to escape to Cleveland, Ohio, where they find work in the garment industry. The story is told by Lucia.

Enjoy this excerpt from Swimming in the Moon, Chapter 3 – Falling Angel
Mamma had been anxious ever since we left New York, troubled by the broad swaths of fields and forests. "It's so empty here!" she fretted. "Nobody told me." She held our envelope of documents, turning it over and around on her lap, running the dull edge along her palm with such force that I aroused myself to trap her hand in mine. "We'll be in Cleveland soon. Everything will be good there."

...My dream melted into sleep so sound that we were entering Cleveland's Union Depot before I woke. Mamma had already gathered our bags.

On the platform, a tall woman with Paolo's long, scooped cheeks and square shoulders surveyed passengers spilling off the train. "Rosanna?" I hazarded and was immediately corrected: "Roseanne. It's more American."

...Roseanne helped us carry our bags to the streetcar, hoist them up, and claim a brass pole. In Naples I'd only ridden streetcars with the countess. Otherwise I walked. Everyone rode here, clerks and suited ladies, workers and immigrants like us.

"Standing is better," Roseanne advised as we rattled away. "You never know who just used those seats. Maybe Sicilians or Bohemians, Slavs, people with fleas," she shouted in our ears....

...Roseanne studied our bags. "Well, a friend of mine works for Stingler's Chocolates. She can help you get a job." As we rattled toward Woodland Avenue, Roseanne pointed proudly to a tangle of wires overhead. "Electricity and telephones." The air smelled acrid and slightly smoky

"Is there a fire?" I asked.

"No, just lots of factories. There's one for lightbulbs further on we have Packard Motor Car and Mr. J.P. Morgan's steel company. We have suit and dress factories; shoe, hat, button, and belt makers; and smaller shops doing piecework for the garment houses. Cleveland dresses America," she announced proudly. "Over there is Stingler's where Teresa can work." She pointed toward the Holy Rosary Church, Central High School for me, and Hiram House, where we'd take English lessons. So our new life was laid out for us, like a puzzle piece missing only two pieces. Already I felt cramped.

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