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The Three Rules


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Why IAWA - April 2002



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The Three Rules of IAWA

2. Write or be written
Writers define realities.

2.1 Write or Be Written (Till Now) The idea for IAWA came out of a tragic event in the racial wars of the United States. August 23, 1989, Yusuf Hawkins, a young African American, was killed on the streets of Bensonhurst by a gang of youths – some of them Italian Americans. The civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton led a protest march past the site of the murder on 20th Avenue. News reports of this march featured Bensonhurst residents making rude gestures and shouting racist slogans. Was this Italian America? Did this defensive and inarticulate anger represent Italian Americans? Anyone watching the television coverage would think so.

Many Italian Americans, writers and scholars in particular, felt excluded from representation at this moment. Many of them opposed racism. Many of them opposed violence. Many had spent years studying the social and cultural struggles that followed the Italian migration to the United States. Joe Sciorra and Stephanie Romeo marched with Sharpton, with a sign reading "Italians against Racism." One did not see them on television. Rather, mainstream media journalism displayed as representative the familiar stereotypes of Italian Americans as fascist goons in the street.

"We must tell our story ourselves," Italian American writers said to one another, "or others will tell it for us." Italian America has no national newspaper, no television station, no university, no great publishing house to call its own. The voice of Italian America is effectively silenced. Its voluntary organizations do an excellent job of representing organized opinion, but the market of representations often calls for something more rapid, more dramatic, than anything organized opinion alone can produce. Organizations are necessary, but they need thinkers to study, poets to read, historians to keep them well informed. The public forum requires organizations, but it also requires public voices.

Public voices are voices of intellectuals: poets, essayists, novelists, dramatists, researchers, critics, political philosophers, social scientists, artists, historians, theorists. Any of these might have gained a public hearing at a moment like the moment of Yusuf Hawkins in 1989. Some of these intellectuals ought have appeared on Nightline or the Op-Ed pages of the great New York dailies, representing Italian Americans who are thoughtful, honest, concerned about social well-being, able to see events in larger contexts.

Italian Americans must tell their story for themselves, the writers decided. The early meetings of IAWA became like freeform workshops. Writers found ways to elicit and to support one another’s work – assisting others to find publishers, reviews, even jobs. Many collective enterprises – anthologies, journals, collections – have appeared. Most important, writers began to think of the Italian American position as something that needed articulation, something they might seriously consider doing themselves.

2.2. Write or Be Written (Now) Every step in the development of IAWA is designed to encourage or to assist Italian American writers to discover and to deploy the power of writing. The Year of the Italian American Book includes the following initiatives:

A Series of Career Workshops, directed by Liz De Franco, began early this year. There have been workshops devoted to questions of self-publishing, of writing for magazines, of niche publishing, and of writing mystery fiction. Future workshops will be of interest to writers who wish to publish poetry, fiction, essays, and other forms of marketable writing.

Essay Competition. This year, IAWA’s Anne and Henry Paolucci Prize in Italian American writing is conducting its third annual competition. The first year’s prize was for poetry, and was won by Annie Lanzillotto, the second year’s prize was for fiction and was won by Rosalind Palermo Stevenson. This year’s award will go to an essay on Italian American literature.

IAWA’s first national conference The Italian American Book will present major Italian American writers and critics discussing the issues of Italian American writing. What does it mean to break the silence that attaches itself to the Italian American position? What does it mean for an Italian American woman to tell the story of her relationship with her parents? How does one make a career in literature? All these questions, and many others vital to writers who wish to break out of silence, will be a part of the discussions on October 13 and 14 at the Museum of the City of New York. (See Read One Another (Now) for biographies of some of the writers who will be speaking.  

2.3 Write or be written (The Future) The writers of IAWA look for writers to offer new representations of Italian America. These will be texts written from one or another Italian American position. They will be writings that render their positions with point and passion and eloquence. Readers will find them irresistible.

When Italian American readers are fully conversant their literature and history, they will find writers to examine it from the inside. The Italian American ideology – the family, the saint, the pride of descent – will come under the scrutiny of Italian American writers. Their works will be studied in schools by all students, part of the general curriculum that any citizen of the United States or Canada wishes to comprehend as part of the full civic and cultural equipment that goes with calling oneself in the fullest sense a citizen of that nation. When issues arise that matter to Italian Americans, they will have not only political and professional and business leaders to speak for them. Italian Americans will have leaders of thought and opinion to speak to the point, intellectuals who can place it in the context of other issues, poets and novelists who can give the most intimate portrait of what it means to live in a given position. Some Italian American parents already encourage their children who wish to pursue careers in writing. Italian American organizations will seek out writers as visitors and speakers. To name someone an Italian American writer will be to confer an honor and to share a powerful American freedom, the freedom to express one’s position as fully, as clearly, as widely as it is possible to do.  

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