In our journey to discover the thousands of different angles useful to analyze the relationship between Italy and the US, books are undoubtedly essential. Today we meet Maria Gliozzi, founder of AIFIC - American Initiative For Italian Culture and organizer of the Book Award The Bridge.
We thank her because we find very significant what she does to spread the Italian culture in America and the American culture in Italy.
Maria, you are one of the founders and directors of AIFIC - American Initiative For Italian Culture. How did it start, and what's your mission?
Our young non-profit organization founded about three years ago in Washington, DC operates with a very specific goal: to promote cultural exchanges between Italy and the United States. As you probably know, there are many other foundations and organizations that work binding the two countries to emphasize the strong bilateral relations in the field of culture. Everybody knows that the Americans love Italy and its artistic, cultural, culinary, and historical heritage. There is a great attention, in particular, to understand how our cultural life is growing, how it is changing and influencing the society, what kind of impact the arts have on us.
In this scenario, we wondered how to stand out and differentiate our activities, how to create something new and different.
One of our main effort is to revive cultural realities that are often poorly understood, even if prestigious, unique, and dynamic. And this happens not just in Italy, but also in the United States. Our purpose is to make more visible those cultural environments, less known and distant from the usual and more common mainstream, in order to create a real cultural exchange and mutual understanding.
To reinforce this cultural exchange we support initiatives related to education, cultural initiatives that can explain better and more in-depth the connections or diversity of the two countries.
Encouraging young American and Italian talents is fundamental. Our job is to discover them, give them visibility, allow them to travel between the two countries, enabling them to participate in cultural and stimulating new contexts. Only then, we believe, we are able to root a long term relationship.
How do you achieve this?
We carry out this mission with the support and partnership of different and influential Italian and American institutions, including the American Embassy in Rome, the Italian Cultural Institute in Washington, some universities, such as the George Washington University, the New York University in DC that has a new campus in the Capital.
We work with other organizations such as the NIAF foundation, we try to forge relationships with the National Gallery and the American Film Institute.
Among the Italian organizations we have partnered with the World Youth Orchestra Foundation of Rome, the New Music Ensemble of Savona, and the House Of Literature in Rome. We have interests in a project, still in its brain-storming process, with the Opera Morlacchi Theatre of Perugia. We worked with the organization Sudestival in the South region of Puglia, which leads a fantastic film festival, another local virtuous cultural reality still unknown on a national scale.
To give you an example of a cultural project we are actively working on in the course of this year we are supporting an international collaboration between the American Youth Philharmonic Orchestras (AYPO) of the Washington, DC area and the Music Conservatory of Padua, Italy. The project will advance the AIFIC mission to build a two-way bridge between the United States and Italy by involving an exchange between young American musicians hosted in a big concert next October 17, 2015 in Padova, and Italian musicians who will perform in the symphonic orchestra in Washington DC on April 5th, 2016. The two orchestras perform with two great singers soloists, one American and one Italian, Cheryl Porter and Rossella Caporale.
Even in the field of cinema, AIFIC is working on an interesting project, the first edition of the Italian Film Festival in DC (IFFinDC). As you know, in many American cities the Italian cinema is very well represented and appreciated, but our ambition is to bring young and emerging filmmakers in Washington, a city that does not enjoy, like others across the United States, a kermess entirely dedicated to the new Italian cinema. It is quite challenging for us in a city that is more traditional and conservative. But if we want to succeed we need to focused on education by involving universities, planning workshops, lectures, panel discussions. AIFIC considers this project an opportunities for dialogue with the American public, an element of study and analysis in addition to the pure exhibition.
One of your most important activity is the Book Award The Bridge. Please tell us something about it
I would like to start by saying that this ambitious project comes from its curator Maria Ida Gaeta, Director of Casa Delle Letterature in Rome. She has worked for many years on the promotion of Italian literature in the United States, in particular with the Literary Award of Zerilli-Marimo in New York since 1998 and ended in 2012.
The Bridge takes the reins of that great experience, introducing new elements, such as an award for non-fiction, generally not considered in literary awards, the participation of American writers along with Italian authors, the creation of two juries, one Italian and one American ready to evaluate the books belonged to the opposite country.
AIFIC has fully embraced this initiative. As Cinema, Music and Contemporary Art, Literature is one of the culture activities to which we devote more energy. Our great interest is to tell more about the latest literary trends and make visible the best books of fiction and non-fiction in the two countries. The Bridge, in fact, connects two cultures.
The Bridge is divided therefore into two sections and has a specular structure.
In the US 10 new books of Italian writers, 5 for fiction and 5 for nonfiction, are judged by a jury made up of American academics, critics, Pulitzer Prizes (as Jhumpa Lahiri) and other cultural figures. In Italy, with a similar structure, the 10 books of American writers are judged by a jury composed of Italian professors of American Literature, experts, journalists, writers, and translators.
The books in competition are published in their respective countries during the year preceding the award. The prize consists of a monetary award to the winners and, more interesting, covers the costs of the translation in the other language. The translation itself is the great part of the project. In our view it will facilitate the dissemination of Italian books abroad and could encourage the publishing market to invest in the opposite country. By covering the translation, which is one of the major expenses for publishing houses, we would stimulate the interest in who aspires to publish into a foreign market.
Who are the Italian writers better appreciated by the American public in the last decades?
Among the Italian authors well known in America during the second ' 900 I would like to mention Italo Calvino, Primo Levi and also Oriana Fallaci. Among the living writers, I think of certainly Umberto Eco. There are others who have become very popular in America in these recent years, such as Melania Mazzucco, Roberto Saviano, Beppe Severgnini or the mysterious Elena Ferrante.
Elena Ferrante in particular has been able to achieve considerable remarks in the US. Her books translated by Ann Goldstein of Europa Editions, have created a real "literary success" especially after the review of the New York Times and The Republic.
At We the Italians we often receive messages from Italian authors who would like to be published in the US. What would you tell them?
It is not easy to guide the Italian writers about being published in the United States. The numbers do not play in our favor. If you think that even the Italian bestsellers have little space in the United States, the process is challenging. Just to give you an example, according to Nielsen Book Scan - a company of data and research, which measures the books sales and the behavior of the players in the global publishing market - Tabucchi's Sostiene Pereira, has sold only one thousand copies in America since 2001. Imagine for nonfiction books, even worse! They are almost never contemplated by foreign publishers, even if they represent perhaps the better image of a country.
In the case of fiction it seems to me that their success abroad is linked more to their universal subjects. Just think of the case of Elena Ferrante. Telling a story likely autobiographic, a sort of a saga, makes the book appealing. You want to know what happens next, and what the psychological development of the characters and actions are. In my opinion, the description of the characters, their dynamic traces, the development of the plot that does not belong to a particular place, make the difference. Silvia Avallone's Acciaio, is another example. Even if she tells a story about Piombino, a very local setting, the theme is universal capable to attract any reader, even stranger.
In Italy, we publish lot of local or regional stories, too often related to cultural stereotypes of our society. The style is sometimes too refined. But this is my purely personal opinion. The US market is more dynamic and diverse. Let's say that it tastes differently from Italy. The paradox is that the Italian publishing houses are widely open to introduce great American writers in our country. They care less the opposite.
Is it possible, in your opinion, to increase the number of Italian books published in the US and their promotion? How?
It is a hope. There are several book fairs in America, for example the Book Expo America (BEA), which are a great showcase for the publishing world, and also for the Italian one. What penalizes ourselves is the access to that market, especially for the smaller publishing houses. As stated by Leopold Sposato, responsible for the cultural industry of the ITALIAN TRADE COMMISSION (ICE), the numbers are quite a matter. If 10,000 published copies may seem like a good number in Italy, in the United States it would still be a very small number for a so large-scale market. In addition, we have other two big issues to consider: the translation costs, and the few incentives to facilitate the publication and dissemination abroad. The Italian publishing houses are struggling to follow the promotion. In short, it is a narrow road for the Italian writers.
That' s why we consider the translation so important. The translators themselves play a fundamental role in a foreign market. A good translation under the eyes of an American publisher can make the difference.
Maria Ida Gaeta, Director of the House Of Literature of Rome, whom we work very closely on The Bridge, explains how we can help to increase the number of Italian books in America: "Considering that the Italian editors translate a lot from foreign languages (especially English) but instead invest very little in the promotion of Italian authors abroad, the role of awards such as The Bridge becomes really important. It would enhance and stimulate knowledge, publication and dissemination of contemporary Italian literary culture, helping the writers but also prodding and urging our publishers to risk more."
In short, offering an incentive that covers the translation of the winner books represents our ambition to undermine this paradox and entice publishers, both Italian and American, to be opened to greater challenges.
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