Writing Beyond History. An Anthology of Prose and Poetry

Cusmano, 2006

Introduction ‑ Journey Beyond History

They left Italy and traced a path to Canada for others to follow. A father or grandmother or great-uncle… alone or with siblings and parents. Their descendants grew up thousands of kilometres away, but learned about that small town or village back home. They were encouraged to love it or influenced to hate it. Some were kept in the dark, links severed by their parents' silence.

Decades later, that path was travelled in reverse by a group of Canadian women and men who share the love of writing and a connection to Italy. Canadian writers of Italian descent came together in the ancient city of Udine in May 2004. They shared their stories and insights with warm and receptive audiences. The writers drew from their collective ideas in an attempt to answer questions born out of a need for transition. Going back has allowed them to move forward as writers.

Writing Beyond History is the literary expression of thirty contributors, including award-winning poets Carmine Starnino and Mary di Michele, and prose writers Caterina Edwards, Genni Gunn and Peter Oliva (whose first published poems appear in this volume). Most of the contributions are in English, but a few writers share their stories in Italian. Governor General Award winner Fulvio Caccia contributes poetry in French.

No matter the genre ? short story, essay, poetry, memoir ? or the language they choose to express themselves in, the familiar comes through in their very diverse tales. In "Ritorno a Padova," Elettra Bedon describes her voyage in moving poetic prose. Gianna Patriarca's verse takes us to Rovereto and Piossasco, while Gil Fagiani's images evoke Naples and Rome. In her dreamy poetry, Sonia Di Placido examines the sacredness of our spiritual space.

The path towards the making of this anthology gave us an opportunity to interpret our overlapping emotions for the home of our ancestors and to find creative and intellectual nourishment. Italy is no longer our physical home ? if ever it was ? but it remains our cultural home and a source of inspiration.

By walking the path together, we went beyond time and place to experience a cultural communion: we sought inspiration and, in so doing, we inspired. The voyage may have rekindled forgotten emotions, raised questions or provided answers. Our communal journey did not end in Udine, nor does it end with this book. Chissà… it will certainly lead to other projects as well as professional relationships and life-long friendships.

After Udine, Ralph Alfonso joined Anna Carlevaris and her group of visual artists in Casacalenda and was inspired to write "Buonasera da Campobasso." Jim Zucchero combined the professional with the familial: he wrote about his family's Italian adventure in "Venetian Scene." In her personal essay, Canadian-born Deborah Saidero shares the emotional struggle she experienced as an adolescent when her family moved back to Italy.

Ken Scambray takes his students to Italy every January (it's a course requirement). His father has never shown any interest in Ken's frequent visits across the Atlantic. Italy is the land of pain and resentment for Ken's father (see "La Storia Nascosta," Accenti Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 3, 2003). Many of us can identify with conflicting emotions towards Italy, as does Joseph Pivato in "Nice Place to Visit But …"

The seed for this cultural writing project was planted in 2000 when I asked Anna Pia De Luca, professor of Canadian literature in Udine, to host the tenth biennial conference of the AICW. Four years later, the event was held at the Canadian Cultural Centre at the University of Udine. This year, Writing Beyond History is being launched at the Eighth Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival ? The City of Words ? in Montreal, designated by UNESCO as the world book capital for 2005-2006.

Our ancestors have taught us that willpower is life; there is hope in every struggle. As intellectuals, as educated women and men who have straddled both worlds, our task and responsibility is to write. Our struggle is to be acknowledged and respected. For many, if not most, writing is not the main source of income and, thus, we are all too familiar with the question "Why keep writing if it doesn't pay the bills?" Novelist Marisa De Franceschi insists that she "cannot not write." Darlene Madott ? attorney by day and short-story writer by night ? responds, "It is part of my journey."

This volume is a snapshot of a literary moment in time: it is our journey back in order to move forward. Writing Beyond History records our cultural identity in the making and contributes to our literary history.