History of Italian Americana

In 1974 Richard Gambino, together with Ernest Falbo and Bruno Arcudi, founded Italian Americana. This historical and cultural journal followed the wave of interest in Italian Americans that had been building in the previous decade and that became particularly strong that year owing to Gambino’s book, Blood of My Blood: The Dilemma of the Italian-Americans.

With the rise of the Civil Rights movement, ethnics, who had already begun to explore their own heritage, were now willing to talk publicly about it—something new to Italian Americans whose parents urged them to keep everything about the family in the family. Additionally, by then Italian Americans in sufficient numbers had received doctoral degrees and were represented in the academy.

The time seemed right to ride the crest of this wave and publish a journal devoted to the Italian American experience, where Italian Americans would record and document their history, literature, and culture. The journal, Italian Americana, was housed at Queens College, City University of New York, where Gambino taught. From its beginning, Italian Americana brought out not only the historical articles and book reviews that other such newly initiated ethnic journals published, but also included fiction, memoirs, and poetry. Gambino reasoned that this latter trio of genres filled out in a human way what history, sociology, and political science in an objective fashion teach us about a group. In a word, literature puts meat on the bones of history.

In 1989 Italian Americana’s two remaining founders, Richard Gambino and Bruno Arcudi (unfortunately Ernest Falbo had died), turned over the publication and editorship to Carol Bonomo Albright. It was to be published in cooperation with the University of Rhode Island, which, through the office of then Rhode Island Speaker of the House Joseph DeAngelis, had received a modest legislative grant to help fund publication. Professor Bruno Arcudi would continue at the journal as associate editor. John Paul Russo was named, and remains, Book Review Editor and from 2001 Co-editor. Later Dana Gioia was invited to be poetry editor, serving from 1994 until 2003 when he stepped down to become Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. Gioia selected the poems published during those years while Michael Palma, his successor, was responsible for selecting the poems after 2003.  Beginning with the Winter 2016 issue Maria Terrone assumed the post of Poetry Editor, continuing in the tradition of soliciting original and innovative poems from Italian American poets and enhancing the “featured poet” section to include a greater number of representative works.  In 2008, the novelist Christine Palamidessi Moore (http://www.moorechristine.com) became Senior Editor, and remains the journal’s Fiction and Creative Non-Faction Editor to date.

After an intermittent publishing schedule and a three-and-a-half-year hiatus, Italian Americana  resumed publication with two issues per year in the fall of 1990. Three prizes were established: the Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry of $1,000, the Salvatore and Margaret Bonomo Memorial Award for Creative Writing of $250, and the Monsignor Geno Baroni Award in History of $500, the latter being the only remaining prize offering a monetary award. Gambino’s policy of presenting history, fiction, memoirs, poetry, and reviews, was continued. Interviews were added with Camille Paglia, Sandra Gilbert, Tina De Rosa, and Tony Ardizzone. Notice of the earliest known Italian American novelist, Joseph Rocchietti (1842) was first made in its pages. Articles on films by Italian Americans and the singing of Frank Sinatra were included. A special issue on the works of Don DeLillo was published. The journal printed a  short story by John Fante. Additionally, a play and an opera libretto by Dana Gioia, together with an interview of the composer of the opera (which went on to win a National Opera Association competition) were published. The opera libretto reflected contemporary Italian Americans’ expanding entry into all the arts occurring during the years in which Italian Americana was published. Another article about the surrealist, primitive painter Ralph Fasanella also appeared, again broadening the scope of the journal’s interests.

Those years also reflect a greater emphasis on Italian American women in that the editors solicited stories, memoirs and poetry from women. Their presence in the journal increased exponentially with authors such as prose writers Rita Ciresi, Mary Caponegro, and Helen Barolini and poets Mary Jo Salter and Sandra Gilbert publishing in its pages. A greater number of historical articles, specifically focused upon Italian American women, also began to appear. One such article by Diane Vecchio explores the entrepreneurial bent of some early women immigrants in one Milwaukee neighborhood; another article by Robin Hazard Ray focused on the plight of Barre, Vermont widows whose husbands died due to the hazard of silicosis, connected with their quarrying work; scholars Donna Gabaccia and Carol Helstosky wrote about Italian American community cookbooks and Italian recipe books; and psychologist Elizabeth Messina offered her expertise on the experiences of women. The visibility of women in the pages of the journal increased to such an extent that two of the editors involved in the journal, Carol Bonomo Albright and Christine Palamidessi Moore, edited an anthology of articles from the journal about Italian American women from immigrant times to the present. The book is entitled American Woman, Italian Style: Italian Americana’s Best Writings on Women.

Our book review section has a clearly articulated policy developed over the years and presented in a short article in the winter 2002 issue. By that time, from 1990 to 2001, the journal had reviewed some 268 books by 147 reviewers, and it has continued at that pace down to the present time. While Italian Americana reviews contemporary Italian American fiction, poetry, travel writing, and memoir, our policy is to throw open the door to cultural, ethnic, and any other relevant studies. Not confining ourselves to the period of the great migration, the journal has gone further afield, to wherever one can find a vital connection or trace a significant influence on the lives, beliefs, and feelings of the immigrants, their forebears, and their offspring. This has meant reviews of a book on southern Italy in the medieval period, an ancient Roman cookbook, a study of nineteenth-century Italian artists, Melville’s poetry on Italy, and current mystery novels about Italy, besides works bearing on Italian Americans in ethnic, sociological, and political studies.

From: Wild Dreams: The Best of Italian Americana, New York: Fordham University Press, 2008, pp. 1-2 and Italian Americana, Vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 96-99.

Updates: Upon Carol Bonomo Albright’s retirement in 2015, Carla A. Simonini assumed the editorship of Italian Americana and brought the journal to Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH.  With only a slight delay, the journals’ publishing schedule continued uninterrupted, with the Winter 2016 issue being mailed out to subscriber most fittingly, if coincidentally, on  March 19, 2016 (St Joseph’s Day).  Dr. Simonini’s acceptance of the editorship of Italian Americana has been positively received by the university’s administration, and the journal is well-positioned to continue its tradition of excellence well into the future.