By Michelle Hart, Staff Writer
On January 23, the finalists for the National Book Critics Circle awards were announced. Among them was "Bitter Spring: A Life of Ignazio Silone," written by Stanislao Pugliese, a distinguished professor of Modern European History at the University.
Aside from teaching, Professor Pugliese has directed the Hofstra Cultural Center's Italian-American Lecture Series and has organized several international conferences at the University. His essay "The Books of the Roman Ghetto Under the Nazi Occupation" was presented at the University's 17th Annual Distinguished Faculty Lecture in 1999, and he was awarded the Peter E. Herman Literary Award. This semester, Pugliese is a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University.
Ignazio Silone, the star of "Bitter Spring," was a founding member of the Italian communist party, but was eventually expelled because he saw communism's true colors, as opposed to what the Italian people hoped it was going to be. Forsaking politics, he reinvented himself as a novelist without any kind of university education or formal literary training.
"What attracted me to Silone was that he was sort of like the black sheep of Italian intellectuals both before and after the Second World War," Pugliese said. "The communists would not accept him and the right wing would not accept him so he was always kind of a loner and anyone can relate to that."
Suffering from depression and contemplating suicide, Silone decided to hole himself away in a small hotel in Switzerland—he could not return his homeland—and began composing what would become his first novel, "Fontamara." That novel became the most translated, most read, and most influential work of antifascism in the 1930's and the 1940's.
Pugliese did not originally intend on writing a biography of Silone. His first book, which was a biography of another Italian figure, won the Ignazio Silone International Prize in Italy and, to claim the prize, Pugliese had to fly to Silone's hometown. Upon having lunch with his editor, Pugliese remarked on how strange it was that no one had written a biography of Silone in English.
"My editor turned to me and he said, ‘would you like to write one?'" Pugliese recalled.
Nine years later, after much hard work and thorough research, "Bitter Spring," was published, immediately receiving near-unanimous praise from critics. The New York Times named it one of their Editor's Choices, calling the work, "absorbing."
"For your work to be praised by colleagues, peers, and people you don't know is an extremely gratifying and satisfying feeling," Pugliese said.
As a graduate of this University, Pugliese still recalls the enormous effect it has had on his life and career. Since his parents were Italian immigrants, Pugliese was the first of his family to go to college. He came to the University with a vague notion of what college was all about, and immediately became enraptured in all it had to offer. He was especially drawn to his professors, who proved invaluable in his years as an undergraduate.
"Many of my professors opened many different doors for me, including the idea that you could spend the rest of your life doing what you love to do," Pugliese said.