Daniela Gioseffi is, like the title of this blog says, an author and activist. She's dedicated her life to fighting for people's rights, promoting multicultural literature and art, defending democracy, and advocating for the environment. She has written 17 books of poetry and prose, including one which I edited with her, Pioneering Italian American Culture: Escaping La Vita Della Cucina, and her 2017 collection of poems, Waging Beauty as the Polar Bear Dreams of Ice. She also edits the online anthology: www.Eco-Poetry.org. I know I've mentioned it somewhere before, but I am Daniela Gioseffi's literary executor.
I first learned of Daniela's work when I was in an Italian literature class at Clemson Univ., and a colleague of my professor came for an Italian Studies Symposium with copies of Daniela Gioseffi's Blood Autumn: Autunno de Sangue. I didn't really know that there was a place or a space for Italian American writers.
A few years later, I was writing a paper on Italian American poetry for my Bibliography and Historiography (Dr. Blevins!), while working towards my MFA in poetry at McNeese State University. I guess I was trying to figure out where I fit in the world of poetry. I'm not quite a formalist, I'm not quite a Southerner, I'm not quite an Italian American (3rd generation doesn't really count). Anyway, while writing my paper, I happened across Daniela's email address, and I sent her an overly enthusiastic, probably fairly spastic, fan letter.
And she replied, and she asked me if I wanted to come help her with a few things if I was ever in New York. So I found a way to get to New York, crashing on the couches of my gracious friends and cousins.
At first, when there was a lot to do--Daniela is a powerhouse of publishing--, and when we were editing a collection of her essays and essays about her for Bordighera Press, I went as often as every six months. Now that we can do so much at a distance, I only visit about every two years.
Since my last visit, an archivist from Yale's Bienecke Library came to collect Daniela's vast donations of books and periodicals and papers and correspondence to what is the The Daniela Gioseffi Papers in their American Collection. Yep. For real.
This most recent trip, we focused on organizing the rest of the papers that Daniela has kept, shuffling, sorting and recycling. Not only was this incredibly cathartic, but it helped remind Daniela of all the things she's done, all the readings, the events, the protests, the activism and the inspiration. Her work as both an author and an activist has really been groundbreaking. It will be my job to preserve it, to make sure her hard work and her memory endure.
Going to Daniela's is like going home; I know all the doormen, it smells like home, I have my space. I love running at Brooklyn's Pier Park (which wasn't there when I first starting visiting), and walking through the neighborhood in the afternoons, soaking in the social and literary history of the place, its magnitude and all the greats who have walked there, too.
I always leave Brooklyn Heights with a little more wisdom: about myself, my writing, my career. One of the stories that Daniela told me during this visit is that she had an early teacher who told her:
"Be kind to life."
As kindred spirits, Italian-Americans, Aquarii, Daniela and I are both easily frustrated and anxious with the world, with our situations. Perhaps this is indeed what propels us to write and act, what gives us our passion. However, Daniela's teacher told her to "be kind to life." Even in those moments when we are most tired and despairing at the state of the world, I guess we must be kind to life, forgive it a little bit, for being so hard.
The hardness of life has not kept Daniela from achieving greatness, and her mentoring has helped me on my path to do the same.