It is with deep sadness that I write this. In the early morning of October 31, Louise A. DeSalvo lost her battle to a devastating disease. Scholar, fiction writer, professor, and model for a plethora of students and young writers, Louise was the Jenny Hunter Endowed Scholar for Creative Writing and Literature at Hunter College, The City University of New York.
A ground-breaking scholar and biographer, her work on Virginia Woolf has been greatly influential and remains among the most authoritative works on the British writer. Further still, her own writing, as both fiction writer and memorialist, places her within the echelon of prominent cultural brokers. She dedicated a great deal of her memoir writing and essays to her working-class, Italian/American background. Indeed, some will consider her one of our best Italian American writers we have, and correct they are. I, in turn, will place her among the more influential of our more grand American literary tradition: to be sure, in the upper tier of the best.
I came to know Louise upon my arrival at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute. I was also a fan of her first novel, Casting Off (1987); and when I found it was out of print, at Bordighera Press we decided to reprint it in 2014. During that same period, I was invited to write the “Afterword” to the collection Personal Effects: Essays on Memoir, Teaching, and Culture in the Work of Louise DeSalvo (Fordham University Press, 2015). I stated then, and I still believe, that Louise DeSalvo is “that requisite model of courage and fortitude [for young women writers] with regard to their own writing, so that they, too, may speak aloud their own liberating truths. Accented, for sure, because DeSalvo had decided early on in her career to wear the mantel of an Italian-American woman writer in ‘A Portrait of the Puttana as a Middle-Aged Woolf Scholar.’ In this, Louise DeSalvo has succeeded in furrowing new paths for the Italian-American woman writer who, through oppressive, historical restrictions, has remained silent much too long.”
May Louise be remembered as the pioneer she was in her professional life and as the generous and welcoming individual she was overall. Her powerful voice and welcoming personality will surely be missed.