Contributing writer Francesca V. Mignosa met with Italian best-selling author Simona Lo Iacono. In Francesca’s hometown of Augusta, Sicily, she and Simona chatted about "The Streghe of Lenzavacche," Simona’s best-selling novel, and her life as an acclaimed author.
Francesca V. Mignosa (FVM):The aspects of your writing really fascinate me: the role of women in ancient and contemporary Sicilian society, spirituality that becomes almost magic, the protection of the weak, fragile, lost, helpless. Can you tell us more about your writing?
Simona Lo Iacono (SLI): I believe that writing is an ally of those who have no voice, the most neglected. Words always offer shelter to those who do not have one. They are a home. They are also a road of inner research because they recompose the individual, they draw on his deepest, most mysterious and sacred sphere. His "center," that complex notion of identity and dream, of love and pain, that we all have.
FVM: You are one of the most renowned writers in Italy, at the moment. You could have chosen to live in any part of Italy, or Europe, yet you were born in Syracuse, you live and work in Catania in Sicily and you wanted to stay there. Your Sicilian character shines strongly in your literary and communicative expressiveness. How would you describe your bond to your native island, your beloved Sicily?
SLI: I'm a daughter, that's all. So, I stay with my mother. A beautiful mother, who has always enchanted. But she’s also tired, and misunderstood: a parent who demands my caresses and my tears.
FVM: In your characters and stories there is a strong sense of spirituality, of good versus evil, of justice. In your private life, are you a religious or spiritual person?
SLI: I am a profound believer. I love Jesus Christ, his road made of unconditional surrender, of abandonment to our smallness. I like his giving of himself, his becoming bread. I like it when he uses mercy on me, when he cheers me with his prayer. His example overwhelms me, makes me tremble with peace, with praise, with thanksgiving.
FVM: When did you start writing and understand it was a fundamental part of your being?
SLI: I started very early. I barely knew how to hold the pen. I closed myself in tiny spaces, closets, under the bed, and I wrote. Telling stories contained me. And I huddled in that shell, because in it my voice joining other voices, ones that were new to me and which I had to decode. Over time, I learned that I didn't just want to write, but that writing was the truest part of me, the most adherent to a greater mystery.
FVM: Your last book, "L'Albatro" (ed. NERI POZZA), narrates the childhood and the biography of one of the greatest Sicilian writers of our time, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the “Gattopardo.” How and why were you interested in this important character of Sicilian, if not global, literature?
SLI: I became interested in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa reading a preface to "Il gattopardo" by Bassani. The author of "The Garden of the Finzi Contini" told of when Giuseppe Tomasi, with his cousin Lucio Piccolo, in 1954, went to the literary conference of San Pellegrino Terme. Bassani says that the prince and his cousin Lucio (a beloved poet by Montale), were in the company of a servant. It was this faithful servant who struck me. I imagined that he was a simple but careful custodian of Giuseppe Tomasi. This servant gradually transformed into the albatross, a bird that shows great devotion to the captains of the ships. He follows them, loves them, never abandons them, neither to good weather nor to bad luck. And from this decentralized location, I humbly began to tell the whole life of the Prince, his vicissitudes in history, his heartfelt demand for meaning. He was a very cultivated man, delicate, split between two worlds, between two dimensions of time. He witnessed great losses. But I wanted to imagine that the albatross, a very strange, imperfect child, tenaciously dedicated to him, guided his path from high above, knowing of his need for love.
FVM: You are also involved in poetry and theater. Are you working on any new, interesting projects?
SLI: At the moment, I am working on a project requested by the Superior Council of the Magistracy, which foresees the use of art and theater inside prison houses as a way to re-educate prisoners. It is a project I am passionately dedicated to. In prison I found people stripped of their mistakes, rendered needy by imprisonment but vibrant with desires, hope and necessity. The inmates are silent men seeking reparation. I hear a cry that needs to be answered.
FVM: Have you ever presented your literary works in the U.S.? Would you like to?
SLI: I would love it. The U.S. is full of Sicilians! I like to be read by all eyes. For writers, the most important thing is to meet another look.
FVM: How can our readers follow you and your works?
SLI: My Facebook profile lists all my literary events and news. Look for my photo of a cat with glasses. I love cats, I have three and they help me dream. It is impossible for me to not associate each book with the tail of a cat.