On the holy month of the most important fashion weeks, squeezed somewhere in there, a very important literary event took place in one of the jewels of Italy, Mantova. We asked why one should put this event on the calendar.
While our Milanese heads are getting ready to twirl around next season's must-haves, our pens are tapping on skirts, designers and such. Get the look! We write, putting aside all, even if conservative, literary intentions. This is not the month to read a good book. Done. Reruns of the September issue cloud our TV stations, a friendly reminder of what's really important.
Yes, sure. If we were to present to the world Italy, pretending we are the mecca of touristic information, we wouldn't definitely think of directing them to a literary festival, nor would the travelers (unless utterly obsessed with the issue) come all the way to Mantova – a gorgeous town btw – to read and play with readers and authors alike. Barnes & Nobles kind of does the job (for most).
To briefly divert you from your basic knowledge, surely you must be aware that Italy doesn't only stand for great food, lifestyle, fashion and art history. It is however true that it is well equipped in beautiful scenarios ideal for hosting events of honorable measure.
Not much of an event person myself, I had to wonder why would people not be satisfied with a bookstore, library, the literary section of the Guardian, and in some cases even deliberately take off days from work to go to Mantova's literary festival. In fashion at least, fashion week is part of our work.
To my surprise, Mantova's attendance grew big numbers over the years reassuring my literate soul that there are indeed some nerds out there.
The biggest surprise was to realize (hear me out publishers!) that a great 80% (out of 283) of the authors present at the festival were Italian. Did I count right? So many Scrittori in Erba that I didn't know about? To show that there is something utterly unbalanced in publishing, but most of all a confirmation of what has been indeed my complaint for years: the Italian publishing industry is trapped (by its own hands) and secluded here in this island, so dubious for a place that almost perfected the art of importing authors and mastered the art of translation.
To name a few of the Italian literary crew.... Nadia Nicoletti, Maurizio Pallante, Roberto Piumini, Carlo Rovelli... If these names do not sound familiar, well check them out, but at least know that Alessandro Baricco was there too.
According to my modest opinion, the most interesting event was the one dedicated to Monicelli and his ties with the Mondadori family, from books to cinema or vice versa.
The festival was born in 1997 following an urge to reevaluate Italian cities, Mantova was thought to be the most adequate for a literary event on the model of the Hay-on-Wye festival in Galles. It has a truly unique formula that sees volunteers take hold and run the entire event. Yes, volunteers. Who said Italians watched too much TV?
“Pensi che lì a Mantova ci sia l’Italia che vorresti.” From the slogan I've found on the festival's homepage, translated it means “You think that in Mantova you can find the Italy you wished existed”.
Yes, indeed. I've exchanged a few words with a volunteer...
Irene Gennari has been volunteering for 8 years since she was 16 (the minimum age for a volunteer), doing all sorts of things from selling tickets, accompanying international authors, and lately as a group leader that manages other volunteers.
I've asked her what developments she has seen over the years:
“There is always something new and interesting happening, for example this year they have collected school notebooks to tell the story of the 150 years of Italy's reunification, there was the science-fi library, the number of places and volunteers have increased (700 hundred this year!)”
“Every year there is a long line to become a volunteer and the selection is very hard”, “You don't sleep for five days straight, whether you are a volunteer or a visitor, there is always someone you want to listen, a debate, an author, right around the corner”.
What has had an impact on you this year?
“The Museum of Dreams with Adriana Zamboni: it was amazing to watch a group of children come in all afraid and in 10 minute time getting in tune with the magic world of dreams... Another interesting event was “L'antro di Manto”, Giorgio Gabrielli's theatre company set up a play on the history of Mantova. I also have to mention the encounter with Don Gallo, everyone was waiting for it. Eliane Brum's record was also very emotional”.
“The festival is a meeting point, a reality check. We have to thank the
organizer Alessandro Della Casa for his involvement. There were more than 350
events in only 5 days...”
For once I will leave you with a borrowed quote from Irene:
“You can live without writing, but you can't live without reading” Marcela Serranno
By Acelya Yonac