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Gay Talese on Italian American Writers: The Epitomy

A video conversation with the famous author and journalist on the occasion of a conference on Frank Sinatra held at Hofstra University in 2015

In this brief video segment taken from a conference on Frank Sinatra, organized by Professor Stanislao Pugliese of Hofstra University, renowned journalist and bestselling author Gay Talese, tells the audience that Italian Americans at the beginning of the 19th Century did not have “a tradition of writing novels.” As they landed in this new country, and not knowing the English language, Italian immigrants became instantaneously “mute,” as if it were, for at least a generation, before they could utter words again. Then there was the Italian culture of “silence” that they brought with them, which hindered their talking and writing freely about events or people, as, for example, the Irish and the Jews could in America. Then, as the Italian Americans acquired the new language, they did not begin producing words for novels, but rather, words for songs. Therefore, concludes Talese, instead of novels, we have a new expression of language in the songs interpreted by the likes of Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Frankie Lane, and Frank Sinatra among others. And that “Frank Sinatra represents the epitome, the personification of the peerless man who… transcends everything.”

Gay Talese is an American journalist and writer who worked for the New York Times and The New Yorker. His writing is well-known as “literary Journalism,” in which a non-fiction, true story is told in a creative fictional manner to capture the reader’s imagination and interest, while at the same time furnishes the reader with true and accurate facts.

A few years ago, Mr. Talese came out with a succinctly dramatic and provocative question: “Where are the Italian American writers?” Have this writer’s efforts for over 20 years interviewing Italian American writers on television, and the struggle of many other prominent Italian Americans, including those from the Association of Italian American Writers (IAWA), been all for naught? It was hard to take Mr. Talese’s statement. Nonetheless, it served to awaken the Italian American writing community. They had to heal their egos, and then double down their efforts to make their intellectual work become more visible and better known.


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