Monday, May 4, 2015
May 4, 2015: NeMLA 2015 Recaps: Italian American Inspirations
[This past weekend, the Northeast MLA held its annual spring conference in Toronto. I was there in my official capacity as the organization’s Vice President, as well as a presenter and audience member, and wanted to follow up on a handful of the many interesting things that took place. Leading up to a weekend post on how you can help me plan next year’s conference in Hartford!]
On three takeaways from Marica Antonucci’s excellent seminar on transnational Italian and American histories, with which my NeMLA conference began.
1) Vincenzo Botta: Lucia Ducci of UMass Amherst began the seminar with a paper on Botta, an Italian American educator, journalist, author, and reformer about whose multi-part 19th century life and transnational influence I literally knew nothing before this talk (and I doubt I’m alone—even that Wikipedia page at the first link is pretty bare bones). In many ways Botta seems to me parallel to Yung Wing, and Ducci’s wonderful talk gave me lots of great starting points for continuing to think about this interesting and inspiring life, voice, and history.
2) Tex: Tyler Norris of William and Mary presented a compelling analysis of Tex, the longest-running Italian comic book. Begun in 1948, this depiction of a heroic lone Texas Ranger making his way through multiple 19th century histories (Mexican American War, Civil War, Native American wars, etc.). Tex seems very much in conversation with other mid-20th century pop culture depictions of the frontier, from the TV show The Rifleman to John Ford’s series of John Wayne Westerns. But I’ll need to learn a lot more about what Tex and Italian culture do with those familiar tropes, work that Norris once again prompted and modeled.
3) The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit: Marisa Escolar of UNC Chapel Hill concluded the seminar by analyzing depictions of Italy and Italian American culture in post-WWII fiction and culture, a topic that interestingly complements the second book project of my colleague and friend Joe Moser. Escolar analyzed a number of books, films, and other texts, but I was particularly interested in her compelling take on both Sloan Wilson’s 1955 novel and the 1956 Gregory Peck film of the same name. As with Botta and Tex, I know more or less nothing about these texts, but Escolar and this seminar have prompted me to learn more!
Those three papers, along with David Aliano’s on early 20th century tourism materials and Roberto Vezzani’s on the “New Italy” in Fascist propaganda, got my NeMLA off to an inspiring start for sure. Next recap tomorrow,
PS. Were you at NeMLA 2015? I’d love to hear your follow ups as well—or your thoughts on this post even if you weren’t there!