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Riso Amaro (Bitter Rice) Screening on November 19


I will be introducing Giuseppe De Santis’ quite extraordinary neorealist noir Bitter Rice (Riso Amaro) starring the amazing Silvana Mangano in a free screening at NYU’s Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò in conjunction with Grey Art Gallery’s really terrific exhibition: NeoRealism: The New Image in Italy 1932-1960

at 6:30pm on November 19th

riso amaro

Click here for further details


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A nomination for a prize! Thanks ALTA! But above all, thanks Natalia, for this and so much more.

Announcing the 2018 Italian Prose in Translation Award Shortlist

The American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) is delighted to announce the shortlist for the 2018 Italian Prose in Translation Award. Starting in 2015, the Italian Prose in Translation Award (IPTA) recognizes the importance of contemporary Italian prose (fiction and literary non-fiction) and promotes the translation of Italian works into English. This prize is awarded annually to a translator of a recent work of Italian prose (fiction or literary non-fiction). This year’s judges are Geoffrey Brock, Peter Constantine, and Sarah Stickney.

The award-winning book and translator for 2018 will receive a $5,000 cash prize, and the award will be announced during ALTA’s annual conference, ALTA41: Performance, Props, and Platforms, held this year in Bloomington, IN from October 31 – November 3, 2018. If you can’t join us in person, follow our Twitter (@LitTranslate) and Facebook ( for the announcement of the winners!

♦ Family Lexicon By Natalia Ginzburg Translated from the Italian by Jenny McPhee (NYRB Classics):

Jenny McPhee’s pellucid new translation of Natalia Ginzburg’s 1963 masterpiece, Family Lexicon, is the best English version yet of this genre-defying classic. “The places, events, and people in this book are real,” Ginzburg tells us in her famously monitory preface; “I haven’t invented a thing.” And though she calls it “the story of my family” and claims to have written “only what I remember,” she insists we read it “as if it were a novel.”

Family Lexicon

♦ The Breaking of a Wave By Fabio Genovesi Translated from the Italian by Will Schutt (Europa Editions):

Fabio Genovesi’s novel, Chi Manda Le Onde, has been skillfully translated into English by Will Schutt under the title The Breaking of a Wave. The sprawling novel with its cast of charming misfits won the Strega Prize for Young Authors in 2015. Marked by irony and tenderness, the story swirls among various perspectives.

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♦ For Isabel, A Mandala By Antonio Tabucchi Translated from the Italian by Elizabeth Harris (Archipelago Books):

Translated by Elizabeth Harris, Antonio Tabucchi’s For Isabel, A Mandala leads the reader through a “mandala of consciousness.” This novella is at once a mystery, a magical-realist fairy tale, and a travelogue.


♦ These Possible Lives By Fleur Jaeggy Translated from the Italian by Minna Zallman Proctor (New Directions):

Fleur Jaeggy’s These Possible Lives, translated by Minna Zallman Proctor, is a book of three short but labyrinthine biographical pieces that recreate in intricate distilled detail the lives of the British literary giants Thomas De Quincey and John Keats, and the French Symbolist writer Marcel Schwob. Jaeggy, a Swiss author who writes in Italian, is a virtuoso stylist, her prose crossing genres from biographical essay to prose poem to literary criticism.


♦ Ties By Domenico Starnone Translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri (Europa Editions):

Jhumpa Lahiri’s much-discussed love affair with the Italian language has born welcome new fruit: in her debut as a translator, she offers a stylistically and tonally assured version of Domenico Starnone’s harrowing thirteenth novel, Ties, about the effects of an affair on a Neapolitan family.

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Obituary of the Last Radium Girl (#2)

Mae Keane

Obituary of the Last Radium Girl
Mae Keane dies at 107

She stunk at the job. Faster, fast, faster,
the boss barked. No slacking slacker
at eight cents a dial. She watched
the clock her small hands made glow–
a face incandescent, luminescent with radio-
active radium paint.

Here’s a tip, use your lips
to sharpen the bristles. Dip
your brush in the glow,
suck, suck, &
wrist watches will flow. But she
grimaced, told the boss “lip-pointing, no!”

He barked her out of a job.
That was 1924. In ‘27
the dying began gums
bleeding, bones
jaws Mae, mostly
spared, lost her

then came colon &

But on she ticked. What luck!
She’d stunk at her job.

(David Owens, The Hartford Courant, March 3, 2014)


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Translation Reviews Round-Up

Los Angeles Review of Books Interview

When Nathan Scott McNamara from the Los Angeles Review of Books wrote to ask if we could talk, particularly about my three most recent translations, I wrote back, “I am a devotee of all things translation as to me all writing is translation, translation the essence of all writing. I translate in order to become a better writer. I write in order to become a better translator. So yes, gladly. Ask away.” Click here to read A Perpetual Layering of Language and Meaning: An Interview with Writer and Translator Jenny McPhee.

Neapolitan Chronicles                                                Anna Maria Ortese

“Ortese’s people are all in primary colors, so vivid that they jump off the page. Moreover, it is splendidly translated by two masters of their trade, Ann Goldstein and Jenny McPhee…this book will be of interest to Ferrante fans. But Ortese is worth reading for herself. Her mixture of the surreal and the real in all of this work is original and compelling. An example of prose that has lasted and will continue to do so.” – The Arts Fuse

“This collection of writing and reportage about Naples was a major inspiration for Elena Ferrante. Ortese’s portrait of the Italian city just after World War II is of a place of poverty and desperation.” – The New York Times, New & Noteworthy

“The texts in this book are kept together by a tension in the gaze, which wants to avert the eyes and cannot do it because compelled to watch, compelled to witness, and to write. And it is not her private world Ortese wants us to see: but to take part in the intensity of her scrutiny, to see with her.” – minor literature[s]

“Elena Ferrante has cited Ortese (1914-98) as one of her greatest influences, and the connections are obvious in this collection of short stories and essays, which infuse a grimy, chaotic Naples with unsentimental menace rather than romantic mystique. Ortese gathers concrete details about the realities of poverty, and, like Ferrante, delineates moments of status tension with blunt accuracy. The narrator of ‘The Silence of Reason’ encounters an old literary friend and describes his presence in the room as ‘an abyss, a chasm full of hands clapping, which created a desolate sound, an endless sigh.’ The story’s skewering of Neapolitan intellectuals caused such an outrage that Ortese had to leave the city.” – The New Yorker, Briefly Noted

“The new edition of Neapolitan Chronicles, by Elena Ferrante’s English translator Ann Goldstein and co-translator Jenny McPhee, presents more reason for celebration than simply the re-emergence of this seminal work. For one thing, until now, Ortese’s book has never appeared in English in its entirety; Frances Frenaye’s 1955 translation lopped off part of the longest of the five pieces that make up the volume and added three not present in the original. For another thing, Goldstein and McPhee have included a preface and afterword Ortese wrote for Roberto Calasso’s 1994 Italian re-issue, and these commentaries by Ortese help to illuminate her aims in writing the book as well as her feelings about its rocky reception by Neapolitans. The translators’ own introduction provides additional context.” – seraillon

“Though it has patches of satisfactory writing, ‘Neapolitan Chronicles’ is a shallow, obtuse, insufferable book, its faults so glaring and pervasive that I fail to understand how anyone can overlook them.” – The Wall Street Journal

(I found this WSJ review pretty interesting in its fierce negativity. It is not unlike how the Sud group responded to Ortese’s book–and Ortese–when it was first published. The reviewer here shows no interest in Ortese as a literary figure at a time and place, sadly a very common critical approach to women authors. In any case, reviews come and go. The book remains.)

“The translator is often hidden in publishing’s shadows (indeed, the series of events for translators at Italy’s biggest book fair is actually called “The Invisible Author.”) But many readers of Ortese may actually find their way to this book through the two translators that have brought her work to English-speaking readers: Ann Goldstein, Elena Ferrante’s translator, and Jenny McPhee, an accomplished novelist whose new translation last year of Natalia Ginzburg’s seminal work of nonfiction, Family Lexicon, was widely lauded.” – Cleaver Magazine

The Kremlin Ball            Moscow, view of Red Square with St. Basil Cathedral and Spasskaya Tower, 1931

“This is a glimpse of 1920s Moscow, among the Soviet high society. It’s the aftertaste of the revolution. Published posthumously, Malaparte’s court chronicle captures Stalin as the surveyor of every intrigue and scandal from his nightly opera box.” – The New York Times, New & Noteworthy

“Malaparte drops names, titles, and geography freely, and this version of the text has excellent notes that keep someone less familiar with Moscow and Soviet people well informed, while Jenny McPhee’s introduction helps to frame the book with Malaparte’s biography.” – Cleaver Magazine

“Malaparte is bedeviled by the issue of religion in Russia’s new communist heart. Where does Christ fit in this loudly, mockingly atheist realm? Furthermore, where is death? Malaparte’s musings on the fate of the old guard – among them such characters as Leon Trotsky’s sister – are both referential and, thanks to Jenny McPhee’s translation, effortlessly flowing. The narrator’s speculations about the aristocrats are interwoven with colorful traceries of Moscow. As the dream of communism sours, Malaparte explores the repressed sentimentalism and despair of his hosts, and the ominous shadow of something more dangerous than idealism.” – The Arkansas International

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Dying #5


The motions

I’ve got these down

they are expensive

they cost me


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Obituary of a Wartime Spy (#1)

I was very heartened by the recent New York Times project called “Overlooked” addressing the fact that many accomplished and, indeed, heroic women were never given an obituary in the Times due to the fact that they were women and deemed not important enough to merit a eulogy in print. Such Better-Late-Then-Never acknowledgement is so important. The Times project inspired me to dig out a poetry project I began some time ago while in a class at The Poetry School in London led by the superb British poet and writer Simon Barraclough.

For years I have been collecting obituaries–an art form I revere–of intrepid women who lived long and intriguing lives, some with brief flashes of fame, others with enduring careers, most of whom I had never heard of. The women I collected shared a few things: they were women, they were dead, and they had each made it through the obituary gatekeepers to get an avowal of their lives into print and the public eye. They also tended to be quite old when they died. I had no idea what I was going to do with these obituaries but was finally inspired by Simon to make found poems out of them. (My Obituary Series of poems is not to be confused with my series of poems called “Dying,” but they do share a theme, I suppose.) The Times project made me realize that by letting this series of poems languish in a file somewhere on my computer, I was contributing to the great silence that is integral to the female experience on so many fronts and in so many ways. Paradoxically, I value silence greatly, above much else, it is up there with love in my pantheon of virtues, but when silence is used, as it has been so systematically, as a weapon against us, we indulge it at our peril. So in praise of women, of silence, of speaking up, of obituaries, and of poetry, here is the first of my found poems.

Eileen Nearne

Obituary of a Wartime Spy
Eileen Nearne dies at 89

Only the cats remembered
her parachute-heart,
licked her

once-shaven head, admired
her once bright loyalty-
blue eyes.

But one by one they left
her too, padding across
a shadow-life out

into the Torquay brume, leaving
her alone, headed for
a pauper’s grave.

The medals finally gave
her away. “Destiny,”
she liked to say.

(John F. Burns, The New York Times, September 21, 2010)

More on Eileen “Didi” Nearne here and here.




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The Kremlin Ball by Curzio Malaparte, translated by me–and a reading in Bushwick.

malaparte cover

The Kremlin Ball by Curzio Malaparte has just been published by New York Review Books. If you have never read Malaparte than this will be a discovery, if you have, then you know the thrill you are in for. It is available here at 20% off.

Also, on Friday, April 20, International Translation Day, I will be giving a reading along with other translators at the excellent reading series Us&Them at Molasses Books in Bushwick at 8pm. More information is here.

Hope to see you there!

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