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With his earlier work, Fred L. Gardaphe positioned himself as the foremost critic (Dagoes Read: Tradition and the Italian/American Writer, 1996), historian (Italian Signs, American Streets: The Evolution of Italian American Narrative, 1996), columnist (Fra Noi newspaper), and anthologist (From the Margin: Writings in Italian Americana, 1991) of Italian-American literature—even contributing to the tradition with Moustache Pete is Dead! (1997). With his most recent work, Leaving Little Italy: Essaying Italian American Culture (2004), Gardaphe has repositioned himself as a critic of Italian-American culture on the whole. This shift comes in part as a result of Gardaphe having in 1998 accepted a position at Stony Brook University, State University of New York, where he directs both the Italian/American and American Studies programs—a move that provoked a broader, even more global, approach than simply Italian-American literature. However, it also comes as a result of Gardaphe's desire to "fix just what it is about what is called Italian American into what we call America": indeed, a desire " to understand the history of America's Italians, to see where they came from, what they created, and where it is all going" (xi, xii). Gardaphe does not attempt to provide the final word on either issue. However, he very deftly leads by example, providing the reader with a number of solid readings designed to illuminate "class, race, gender, ethnicity, and lifestyle" as they operate in Italian-American culture. At the very same time, he synthesizes [End Page 228] a stunning array of scholarship on Italian-American literature, film, art, music, religion, social history, and folkways (xi).
Part I, "A Historical Survey," describes the cultural origins of Italian America and provides a brief history of the scholarship devoted to its study. Chapter 1 begins with Antonio Gramsci's 1927 call for an indigenous southern Italian intelligentsia to fight oppression at the hands of the northern ruling elite. Gardaphe believes that one answer to Gramsci's Southern Question came in the form of Italian immigration, which, mostly southern, devoted itself to issues of class and politics in their writings in the United States. He cites poet/labor organizer/novelist Frances Winwar, journalist/labor organizer Carol Tresca, and literary critic Luigi Fraini as the earliest examples of this trend, arguing that the "myth of Italian America was founded [in the early twentieth century] by immigrants from southern Italy who did not wait for others to answer the southern question for them" and who "became the very intellectuals that Gramsci had hoped would lead his country in a revolution" (11–12, 12).
The result was nothing short of the invention of Italian America, a subject Gardaphe turns to in chapter 2 and a task he places squarely in the hands of Italian-American writers who continually dramatized the "tension between the metaphor of Italy and the metaphor of America" in their creative work (19). Gardaphe follows this assertion with brief readings of the work of a dazzling, even dizzying, array of novelists memoirists, and poets, including John Fante, Jerre Mangione, George Panetta, Octavia Waldo, Rocco Fumento, Michael de Capite, Raymond de Capite, Giose Rimanelli, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane di Prima, Mario Puzo, and Gay Talese. The scope of the discussion runs from the turn of the century to the 1960s and reveals Gardaphe's encyclopedic knowledge of the field. Chapter 3 picks up where the previous chapter had left off: the 1970s, when the so-called ethnic revival provoked a serious reconsideration of the "Little Italy" created by previous writers. Gardaphe again provides brief discussions of many writers, including Helen Barolini, Dorothy Bryant, Carole Maso, Josephine Gattuso Hendin, Dana Gioia, Rose Romano, Don de Lillo, and Albert Innaurato. Part and parcel of this reconsideration of "Little Italy" was the explosion of scholarship on Italian America that began in the 1970s. While Gardaphe astutely discusses the work of—among others—Raymond Bellioti, Anthony Tamburri, Edvige Giunta, and Mary Jo Bona, he is silent about his own above-mentioned contributions, which is a bit of a...