Reading Domenico Starnone

Editors’ Introduction

One of the most prominent contemporary Italian writers, Domenico Starnone has been steadily gathering popular and critical acclaim since the mid-late 1980s when he published his first collection of short-stories From the Teacher’s Desk (Ex Cattedra). The author of numerous novels, the latest of which is due to be published in Italy tomorrow, on October 12, 2021, Starnone is also a screenwriter, a journalist and a literary critic. His 2019 novel Trust (Confidenza) is about to be published by Europa Editions in Jhumpa Lahiri’s translation. 

In 2001 Starnone was awarded the most prestigious prize for Italian literature, the Strega, for his novel Via Gemito. Set against the background of Naples, Starnone’s native city, the book traces the narrator’s relationship with his father, a railway worker and an aspiring artist whose contradictory stories about his life and paintings – The Drinkers in particular – haunt the narrator and the text. Twenty years after the Strega prize, we revisit both Via Gemito and Starnone’s literary production leading to and following this watershed moment in his career. 

This special issue, Reading Domenico Starnone, explores the many lives of Domenico Starnone, the “other Starnones,” as Jhumpa Lahiri puts it in her “Afterword” to Trust, to present a portrait of the author during different phases of his writing career. This is by no means a thorough or realistic portrait. Rather, it is a discursive space where, in line with Starnone’s poetics of lability, fictional characters cohabit with real people, remembered encounters with Starnone converse with a new interview with the writer, unpublished translations of Starnone’s old texts interact with essays about published translations of his latest work. To create this space, we invited writers, translators, and literary critics to reflect on Starnone’s words. Their diverse voices and perspectives inform what we hope is a dynamic introduction for an Anglophone audience. 

The special issue opens with an extended interview we conducted with Domenico Starnone in Italian, in which the writer discusses a range of questions – from the genesis of his literary career to the role of women, cities, language, and painting in his novels. The interview frames the essays and translations that follow. 

The first section, titled “Encounters with Starnone: Place, Language, Text,” offers a broad overview of Starnone’s works, including how they were translated and published in the Anglophone world, and embraces a polyphony of approaches, perspectives, and styles. Great attention is given to language and place that constitute some of the Neapolitan writer’s pivotal themes.

The second section, “Starnone and the School,” touches on the early Starnone – Starnone the teacher who began writing about the Italian school system. We commissioned Maria Tirelli Schiel’s translation of three short stories from his 1991 collection Out of Register (Fuori registro) and we are delighted to publish them in English for the first time. 

Next, in the third section, “Starnone’s Masterpiece: Via Gemito 20 Years After the Strega Prize,” we pay tribute to his archetypal novel, or his “Ur-Text,” as Enrica Maria Ferrara calls it, by publishing an exclusive excerpt from Via Gemito in Oonagh Stransky’s translation, and by featuring two essays on Starnone’s Strega-winning novel. 

The special issue concludes with the section “Starnone, in Lahiri’s Words” in which our contributors review and discuss Jhumpa Lahiri’s recent translations of what in English has become a trio of novels: Ties, Trick, and Trust. We offer a special bonus piece: an essay which allows a glimpse into Starnone’s newest novel in Italian, Vita mortale e immortale della bambina di Milano

In publishing Reading Domenico Starnone, our goal is to highlight Starnone’s significant presence in Italian and world literature, and to move beyond unproductive debates about his identity.1 That is, his alleged connection to Elena Ferrante. In fact, it would be more productive and enjoyable for readers to learn how Starnone deals with that issue in his fiction. In Erotic Autobiography of Aristide Gambia, another one of his exceptional books which has yet to find a translator’s voice in the English language, Starnone  ‘discusses’ allegations that he might be the Neapolitan author behind the pseudonym. Starnone is a masterful storyteller who has crafted compelling, original, powerful books that invite close reading for their own literary merits. Reading Domenico Starnone is, to the best of our knowledge, the first substantial publication in English to both introduce the author and consider his works within the entire arc of his literary career to date. We hope that this special issue will spark readers’ curiosity and they will delve deeper into Starnone’s fictional universe. Buona lettura

Enrica Maria Ferrara and Stiliana Milkova

Editors, Reading Domenico Starnone

“Literature is the Sudden Disintegration of the Verbal Fabric of Everyday Life”: Domenico Starnone in Conversation with Enrica Maria Ferrara and Stiliana Milkova 

Encounters with Starnone: Place, Language, Text 

Michael Reynolds, “The Three Lives of Domenico Starnone” 

Andrew Martino, “A Close Encounter with Domenico Starnone” 

Silvio Perrella, “The Alphabet of Via Gemito: a Photo Essay” – translated from Italian by Enrica Maria Ferrara and Stiliana Milkova 

Chiara De Caprio, “On the Language and Style of Domenico Starnone’s Novels”  – translated from Italian by Rebecca Falkoff

Starnone and the School

Three Stories from Domenico Starnone’s Out of Register (Fuori registro): “The Empty Classroom,” “Once Again,” “Dandelion” – translated from Italian by Maria Tirelli Sheil 

Starnone’s Masterpiece: Via Gemito 20 Years After the Strega Prize

“The Drinkers”: an Excerpt from Domenico Starnone’s Via Gemito – translated from Italian by Oonagh Stransky

Nicola H. Cosentino, “Via Gemito is Back, as Text and Painting” – translated from Italian by Enrica Maria Ferrara and Stiliana Milkova

Enrica Maria Ferrara, “Via Gemito: Domenico Starnone’s Ur-Text” 

Starnone, in Lahiri’s Words: Ties, Trick, Trust

Stiliana Milkova, “On Bonds and Baggage: Domenico Starnone’s Ties 

Ilaria de Seta, “A Neapolitan Grandfather on the Edge: Domenico Starnone’s Trick 

Steven Jacobs, “Degrees of Separation: Jhumpa Lahiri’s Translation of Domenico Starnone’s Trust 

Bonus Track: the Newest Starnone

Enrica Maria Ferrara, “Love, Death, and Language in Domenico Starnone’s Vita mortale e immortale della bambina di Milano