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Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino (1923 - September 19, 1985) was an Italian writer and novelist.

Born in Santiago de Las Vegas[?], Cuba to botanists Mario Calvino and Evelina Mameli (a descendant of Goffredo Mameli) and brother of Floriano Calvino[?], a famous geologist, he soon moved to Italy, where his family was from and where he lived most of his life.

He stayed in Sanremo[?], in the Riviera, for some 20 years, and enrolled in the Avanguardisti (a fascist youth organisation adherence to which was practically compulsory) with whom he took part in the occupation of the French Riviera[?]). He suffered some religious troubles, his familiars being followers of the Waldensian Protestant Church. He met Eugenio Scalfari[?] (later a politician and the founder of the important newspaper La Repubblica), of which he would remain a close friend.

In 1941 he moved to Turin, after a long hesitation in choosing between this town and Milan. He often humorously described this choice, and used to define Turin as a city that is serious but sad.

In 1943 he joined the Partisans in the Italian Resistance, in the Garibaldi brigade, with the battlename of Santiago, with Scalfari he created the MUL (universitarian liberal movement) then he entered the (still clandestine) Italian Communist Party[?]).

In 1947 Calvino graduated from Turin's university with a thesis on Joseph Conrad and started working with the official Communist paper L'Unità; he also had a short relationship with the Einaudi[?] publishing house, which put him in contact with Norberto Bobbio[?], Natalia Ginzburg[?], Cesare Pavese[?] and Elio Vittorini[?]. With Vittorini he wrote for the weekly Il Politecnico (a cultural magazine of the university). He then left Einaudi to work mainly with L'Unità and the newborn communist weekly political magazine Rinascita.

In 1950 he worked again for Einaudi house, where he became responsible for the literary volumes. The following year, presumably in order to verify a possibility of careering in the communist party, he visited the Soviet Union (the reports and correspondence he produced about this visit where later collected and granted him literarian prizes).

In 1952 Calvino wrote with Giorgio Bassani for Botteghe Oscure[?], a magazine named after the popular name of the party's head-offices, and worked for Il Contemporaneo, a marxist weekly.

It was in 1957 that Calvino unexpectedly left the communist party, and his resigning letter (soon famous) was published on L'Unità.

He found new spaces for his periodic writings in the magazines Passato e Presente and Italia Domani. Together with Vittorini he became a co-editor of Il Menabò di letteratura, a charge that he held for many years.

Despite the previously severe restrictions for foreigners of communist faith, he was allowed to visit the United States, where he stayed six months (four of which in New York), after an invitation by Ford Foundation. Calvino was particularly impressed by the new world: Naturally I visited the South and also California, but I always felt a New Yorker. My city is New York.

In the States he also met Esther Judith Singer, whom he married a few years later in Havana (Cuba), during a trip in which he visited his birthplace and met Ernesto Che Guevara.

Back in Italy, and once again working for Einaudi, he started publishing some of his cosmicomics on Il Caffé, a literarian magazine.

Vittorini's death in 1966 had a heavy influence on Calvino and caused him what has been defined as an "intellectual depression", which the writer himself described as an important passage in his life: ...I ceased to be young. Perhaps it's a metabolic process, something that comes with age, I'd been young for a long time, perhaps too long, suddenly I felt that I had to begin my old age, yes, old age, perhaps with the hope of prolonging it by beginning it early.

He then started to frequent Paris (where he was nicknamed L'ironique amusé). Here he soon joined some important circles like the Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle) and met Roland Barthes and Claude Levi-Strauss, in the fermenting atmosphere that was going to evolve into the 1968's cultural revolution (the French May[?]); in his french experience he also became fond of Raymond Queneau's works, which would have sensibly influenced his later production.

Calvino also had more intense contacts with the academical world, with notable experiences at the Sorbonne (with Barthes) and at Urbino[?]'s university. His interests included classical studies (Honoré de Balzac, Ludovico Ariosto, Dante, Ignacio de Loyola, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Cyrano de Bergérac, Giacomo Leopardi) while at the same time, not without a certain surprise in the italian intellectual class, he wrote novels for Playboy's italian edition (1973). He became a regular contributor to the most important italian newspaper (Corriere della Sera[?]).

In 1975 he was made Honorary Member of the American Academy[?], the following year he was awarded the Austrian State Prize for European Literature. He visited Japan and Mexico and gave lectures in several American towns.

In 1981 he was awarded the prestigious French Légion d'Honneur[?].

In 1985 he died in Siena at the ancient hospital of Santa Maria della Scala of a cerebral hemorrhage[?].


Posthumous editions:

Dates are for original publication.


Italo Calvino

I set my hand to the art of writing early on. Publishing was easy for me, and I at once found favor and understanding. But it was a long time before I realized and convinced myself that this was anything but mere chance.

Everything can change, but not the language that we carry inside us, like a world more exclusive and final than one’s mother’s womb.

Your first book already defines you, while you are really far from being defined. And this definition is something you may then carry with you for the rest of your life, trying to confirm it or extend or correct or deny it; but you can never eliminate it. (preface to The Path to the Nest of Spiders)

In an age when other fantastically speedy, widespread media are triumphing and running the risk of flattening all communication onto a single, homogeneous surface, the function of literature is communication between things that are different simply because they are different, not blunting but even sharpening the differences between them, following the true bent of the written language. (Six Memos for the Next Millennium)

Gore Vidal

Italo Calvino has advanced far beyond his American and English contemporaries. As they continue to look for the place where the spiders make their nests, Calvino has not only found this special place but learned how himself to make fantastic webs of prose to which all things adhere.

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