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Celati, Gianni 1937-

CELATI, Gianni 1937-

PERSONAL:

Born January 10, 1937, in Sondrio, Ferrara, Italy; son of Antonio Celati and Dolores Exenia Martelli. Education: Graduated from University of Bologna.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Brighton, England.

CAREER:

Novelist, essayist, translator, and educator. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, visiting professor, 1970-72; University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy, lecturer, beginning 1972, associate professor of English and American literature, 1975-84; University of Caen, Normandy, visiting professor, 1986-87. Visiting professor, Brown University, 1990, 2002; Fulbright professor, University of Chicago, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, 2003; DAAD fellowship, 2004-05. Director of documentary films La strada provinciale delle anime ("Provincial Road of Souls"), 1991; Il Mondo di Luigi Ghirri ("The World of Luigi Ghirri"), 1999; and Visions of Crumbling Houses, 2002.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Bagutta prize, 1973, for Le avventure di Guizzardi; Prize Grinzane Cavour, 1983; Comisso Prize, 1988, for Adventures in Africa; Premio Mondello, 1990, for Parliamenti Buffi; Zerilli-Marimò Prize for Italian Fiction, for Adventures in Africa, 1998; voted best book of the year by German critics and Chiara Prize, both 2001, both for Cinema naturale; Campiello Prize, 2005, for Fata Morgana; Viareggio Prize, 2006, for Vite di pascolanti: tre racconti.

WRITINGS:

Comiche (novel; title means "Slapstick"), Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1971.

Le avventure di Guizzardi (novel), Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1973, published as Le avventure di Guizzardi: Storia di un senza famiglia, in Parliamenti Buffi, Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1989.

Il chiodo in testa, Nuova Foglio (Pollenza-Macerata, Italy), 1975.

Finzioni occidentali: fabulazioni comicità e scrittura (essays; title means "Western Fictions"), Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1975, 3rd revised edition, 2001.

La banda dei sospiri: romanzo d'infanzia (novel; title means "Band of Sighs"), Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1976, published as La banda dei sospiri: Romanzo d'infanzia, in Parliamenti Buffi, Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1989.

(With Lino Gabellone and Nicole Fiéloux) La bottega dei mimi, Nuova Foglio (Pollenza-Macerata, Italy), 1977.

Lunario del paradiso (novel; title means "Paradise Almanac"), Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1978, revised version published as Lunario del paradiso: esperienze d'un ragazzo all'estero (title means "Paradise Almanac: Experiences of a Young Man Abroad"), in Parliamenti Buffi, Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1989.

(Editor) Alice disambientata: materiali collettivi (su Alice) per un manuale di sopravvivenza, L'erba Voglio (Milan, Italy), 1978.

(Editor) Narratori delle riserve, Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1982.

Narratori delle pianure (short stories), Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1985, translation by Robert Lumley published as Voices from the Plains, Serpent's Tail (London, England), 1989.

Quattro novelle sulle aparenze (short stories), Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1987, translation by Stuart Hood published as Appearances, Serpent's Tail (London, England), 1991.

Il profilo delle nuvole, immagini di un paesaggio italiano (title means "Profile of the Clouds, Images of an Italian Landscape"), photographs by Luigi Ghirri, Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1989.

Verso la foce (novel; title means "Toward the Estuary"), Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1989.

Parliamenti Buffi (contains Le avventure di Guizzardi: Storia di un senza famiglia, La banda dei sospiri: Romanzo d'infanzia, and Lunario del paradiso: Esperienze d'un ragazzo), Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1989.

(And director, with Pierrot and La Rosa) La strada provinciale delle anima (television documentary; title means "The Provincial Road of the Spirits"), 1991.

(Reteller) L'Orlando innamorato raccontato in prosa (title means "Orlando Innamorto Retold in Prose"; adapted from Boiardo's verse epic), Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1994.

Recita dell'attore Vecchiatto nel teatro di rio Saliceto, Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1996.

Avventure in Africa (travel), Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1997, translation by Adria Bernardi published as Adventures in Africa, foreword by Rebecca J. West, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2000.

Cinema naturale (essays), Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 2001.

Fata Morgana, Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 2005.

Vite di pascolanti: tre racconti, Nottetempo (Rome, Italy), 2006.

Also author of Frasi pera narratori, C.U.S.L. (Bologna, Italy), 1984. Contributor to periodicals, including Alfabeta, Il Caffé, Quindici, and Il Verri. Work represented in anthologies, including The Quality of Light: Modern Italian Short Stories, edited by Ann Caesar and Michael Caesar, Serpent's Tail (London, England), 1993.

Author's works have been translated into several languages.

Also author of screenplay and director of film Visioni di case che crollano ("Crumbling House"), c. 2003.

TRANSLATOR

Jonathan Swift, Favola della botte, Samptetro (Bologna, Italy), 1966.

Honoré de Balzac, Storie licenziose (translation of Contes drolatiques), 1967

William Alexander Gerhardi, Futilità, Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1969.

Edward T. Hall, Il linguaggio silenzioso (translation of The Silent Language), Bompiani (Milan, Italy), 1969.

(With Lino Gabellone) Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Colloqui con il professor Y (translation of Entretiens avec le professor Y), Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1971.

(With Lino Gabellone) Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Il ponte di Londra (translation of Le ponte de Londres), Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1971

Mark Twain, Le avventure di Tom Sawyer (translation of Tom Sawyer), 1979

Roland Barthes, Barthes di Roland Barthes, Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1980.

Jack London, Il richiamo della foreste, Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1986.

Herman Melville, Bartleby lo scrivano (translation of Bartleby, the Scrivener), Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1991.

Stendhal, La certosa di purma, Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1993.

Friedrich Hölderlin, Poesie delle torre, Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1993.

Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Guignoll's Band I-II, Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1996.

Jonathan Swift, I viaggi di Gulliver (translation of Gulliver's Travels), Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1997.

Joseph Conrad, La linea d'ombra (translation of Shadow Line), 1999.

Henri Michaux, Ailleurs (translation of Altrove), 2001.

SIDELIGHTS:

Gianni Celati is a notable Italian writer whose literary achievements include straightforward accounts of bizarre and sometimes disturbing individuals and activities. "Celati is not a writer whose work can be easily categorized," explained a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor, calling Celati "one of Italy's most intriguing modern writers." Similarly, David Robey wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that Celati is "one of the most original contemporary Italian writers," and Rebecca J. West noted in Gianni Celati: The Craft of Everyday Storytelling that Celati is "recognized as one of the most respected of the so-called post-[Italo] Calvino generation." West also observed that Celati's "workshop crafting of deeply thoughtful and highly imaginative stories of the everyday [constitute his] ongoing gift to Italian letters."

Celati received his academic education at the University of Bologna, where he produced a thesis on the writings of twentieth-century Irish novelist James Joyce. In 1966 he began working as a translator, and before the decade ended Celati had published Italian renderings of works by writers as diverse as Jonathan Swift and Edward T. Hall. In 1971 Celati issued his first novel, Comiche, in which a deranged teacher endeavors to protect his diary from theft by fellow inmates at an unusual mental institution. A Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor described Comiche as "a curious and difficult work," and a Times Literary Supplement reviewer commented that "the war [Celati] wages is total, nothing is sacred: syntax, morphology and lexicon are sent up in flames."

In Celati's next novel, Le avventure di Guizzardi, a disturbed youth recalls his various exploits, including an extended term at a ghastly hospital where cruel physicians pronounce unfounded diagnoses and practice sexual harassment. A Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor noted allusions to the Decameron and Franz Kafka's fiction in Le avventure di Guizzardi, but he added that "the picaresque nature of [the novel] invites the reader to admire Celati's technical skill rather than view his work in terms of psychological or social realism."

La banda dei sospiri: romanzo d'infanzia, which was published in 1975, concerns a youth who desperately strives to fathom the behavior of his family members, including an older brother whose enthusiasm for adventure fiction prompts him to enact scenarios that jeopardize the hero's life. "As in [Comiche and Le avventure di Guizzardi]," a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor commented, "Celati's concern is not to create rounded characters in a realistic social setting, but rather to evoke a set of grotesque, marionette-like figures in a grubby puppet theater." The contributor added that critics deemed La banda dei sospiri "a virtuoso performance."

Celati continued to concern himself with the bizarre and unlikely in Lunario del paradiso, wherein a foreign student reels from one misadventure to another during a stay in Germany. A Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor described the protagonist as "the literal foreigner, blundering uncomprehendingly from conversation to adventure, unsure whether the people who talk to him and about him are being friendly or not." Another writer, Antonino Musumeci, wrote in World Literature Today that Lunario del paradiso and Celati's preceding novels "operate in the space of ludic literature, perhaps the only relevant type of writing possible today, where the comic element is subsumed as a technique of estrangement intended as a locus of authenticity." Musumeci hailed Celati as "one of the most promising and interesting voices in the narrative field in Italy."

Celati's other books include Narratori delle pianure, a short-story collection that was published in English translation as Voices from the Plains. Although it originated in conversations Celati conducted with people during a trek across Italy, Narratori delle pianure nonetheless serves as further evidence of the author's knack for the quirky and unusual. Thus the book serves to confirm Pina Piccolo's observation in Gravidas that "one of the tendencies of the grotesque [is] to put in relation things that traditional logic deems distant." Included in Narratori delle pianure is an account of a pharmacist who rewrites the endings to books in his sizeable private library. Another episode concerns a woman who tapes over her orifices before killing herself. Adrian Tahourdin, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, noted that "Celati mixes whimsicality with flatly delivered statements of alarming fact, to great effect." and J. Shreve affirmed in Choice that the stories in Voices from the Plains are "typically about disoriented persons whose estrangement from life typifies the dilemma of being human." A Publishers Weekly contributor concluded that Voices from the Plains "merits serious attention."

Appearances, another of Celati's works in English translation, features four more tales about strange peoples and events. Among the tales in this volume, which originally appeared as Quattro novelle sulle aparenze, is "Baratto," wherein a teacher stops speaking because he has no ideas to express. Another story, "Readers of Books Are Ever More False," features a literature enthusiast who finds himself addicted to reading. Mindi Dickstein, writing in the New York Times Book Review, noted the "absurdly comic modern landscape" of Appearances, and she summarized the book as a "powerful collection." Another critic, David Buckley, wrote in the London Observer that Appearances constitutes a work of "deadpan" humor, while a Publishers Weekly reviewer described the book as a collection of "provocative stories."

Among Celati's other books is Avventure in Africa. Booklist contributor Margaret Flanagan described the English translation, Adventures in Africa, as "a tantalizing travelogue of cultural color and texture," and a Publishers Weekly contributor dubbed it "an unusual portrait of West African countries." Although Edward K. Owusu-Ansah described Adventures in Africa in the Library Journal as a "culturally combative account," World Literature Today contributor Charles Briffa appraised Celati's book as a "readable account of personal observations and social events." Still another critic, David Vincent, wrote in the Times Literary Supplement of Celati's "keen poetical sense."

Celati is also the author Recita dell'attore Vecchiatto nel teatro di rio Saliceto. The book focuses on Shakespearean actor Venetian Attilio Vecchiatto, who was well known in North and South America but largely unrecognized in his home country of Italy. In addition to Celati's ruminations about the actor's thoughts on plays and acting, he includes news reports about Vecchiatto and much of the actor's own sonnets and other writings. Michela Montante, writing in World Literature Today, commented: "Gianni Celati's writing is incisive and clear. The content of Recita dell'attore Vecchiatto recalls the eternal human themes of the classics." In his film Visioni di case che crollano ("Crumbling House"), which Celati wrote and directed, the author presents a film about the Po river valley in Italy. In the documentary he focuses on the dedication of the people who still live in an area largely deserted by the peasants who once lived there, with only their run-down houses and buildings remaining. In an article on the University of Chicago News Office Web site, Celati commented: "There is a strict line of division between those people who are used to living among ruins and in poverty, and who take the external world as it is, and those people who are rich and who tend to wish a total restoration of the visible world that brings it closer to an advertising image for the West is more and more dominated by a fanaticism for the new, by a desire to wipe out the traces of time."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 196: Italian Novelists since World War II, 1965-1995, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.

West, Rebecca J., Gianni Celati: The Craft of Everyday Storytelling, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, November 15, 2000, Margaret Flanagan, review of Adventures in Africa, p. 605.

Choice, October, 1990, J. Shreve, review of Voices from the Plains.

Gradiva, Volume 4, number 2, 1988, Pina Piccolo, "Gianni Celati's Silence, Space, Motion, and Relief," pp. 61-65.

Library Journal, October 1, 2000, Edward Owusu-Ansah, review of Adventures in Africa, p. 132.

New York Times Book Review, November 29, 1992, Mindi Dickstein, review of Appearances, p. 18.

Observer (London, England), November 17, 1991, David Buckley, "The Acrobat's Box of Tricks," p. 65.

Publishers Weekly, February 2, 1990, review of Voices from the Plains, p. 79; August 17, 1992, review of Appearances, p. 493; October 20, 2000, review of Adventures in Africa, p. 57.

Times Literary Supplement, August 25, 1972, "Howlers," p. 1005; October 13, 1989, Adrian Tahourdin, "Lost in the Delta," p. 1131; October 6, 1995, David Robey, "In Love and in Anger," p. 30; January 26, 2001, David Vincent, review of Adventures in Africa, p. 33.

World Literature Today, autumn, 1979, Antonino Musumeci, review of Lunario del paradiso; winter, 1998, Michela Montante, review of Recita dell'attore Vecchiatto nel teatro di rio Saliceto; winter, 1999, Charles Briffa, review of Avventure in Africa.

ONLINE

Lettera.com, http://www.lettera.com/ (May 14, 2005), Mark Teeth, "Lettera.com Interview: Gianni Celati."

University of Chicago News Office Web site,http://www-news.uchicago.edu/ (May 21, 2003), "Prof. Gianni Celati to present screening of his film Visioni di case che crollano on May 29."

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