Saving history: Literature in the Italian American Collection

Of interest to the majority of patrons who access the WRHS Italian American Collection are original photographs and documents. Both relate, a lot, to the Italian American community and, because they are original, make a good connection to the past. But, books are another valuable resource within the collection. 

The collection contains many books, from studies of Italian Americans to survey histories to autobiographies and biographies. If you are interested in the books in the Italian American Collection, visit and click on the link to search the library collection. Type “Italian” in the keyword search and the books will be listed on several pages. 

Since literature is the topic of this month’s edition, I want to highlight a few of the biographies and autobiographies of Italian Americans. A couple of column’s ago, I wrote about Armand Cesa’s recollections of growing up in the Blue Rock Spring neighborhood of Cleveland. I mentioned that personal recollections like this are among my favorites because they transport you to another place and time. The published biographies and autobiographies are in the same vein.

In 2009, Gloria Hanson wrote “Zora: The Life of An Extraordinary Girl Living in Extraordinary Times.” Zora Prosperi, the author’s grandmother, was a young peasant girl born in 1911 in Riolo, Italy. She meets a young Italian man who takes her to American where the story really begins. Gloria wrote this riveting immigration story like a novel with intriguing dialogue and detailed descriptions.

A really fun read is “Confessions…of a Hollywood Hairstylist” by Little Joe Micale, a former resident of Collinwood’s Italian neighborhood in Cleveland and Mayfield Heights, OH. It is a compilation of columns Little Joe wrote for a small newspaper. Little Joe writes like he talks, in a very familiar and humorous way. He tells stories about growing up in Northeast Ohio, about his father’s decision to move the family to California and Little Joe’s adventures as a hairstylist to the stars. As a side note, Little Joe’s father, Paul Micale, played the priest in the “Rocky” movies.

The Italian American Collection also contains a number of books written about Italian Americans in Youngstown, OH. “Rose Street Revisited” by Carmen J. Leone is a collection of poems, essays and recipes of the Italian immigrant inhabitants of Rose Street located on the east side of Youngstown. It is the second book about life on the street written by Leone. The first, “Rose Street: A Family Story” is a biographical novel much like Hanson’s, which relates the struggles of an immigrant family in the Steel Town during the Great Depression and two world wars.

Perry J. Martini, a native of Warren, OH, wrote “My Father’s Compass: Leadership Lessons for an Immigrant Son.” The first few chapters contain an account of the Martini family’s immigration story: from departure, to crossing to arrival. The chapters following address a theme of how the family thrived and survived in their new country. To universalize the messages of the stories, every chapter concludes with a list of Life Lessons.