Cornelisen, Ann 1926–2003

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CORNELISEN, Ann 1926–2003

PERSONAL: Born November 12, 1926, in Cleveland, OH; died November 12, 2003, in Rome, GA; daughter of Ralph White and Ydoine (Rose) Cornelisen; divorced. Education: Attended Vassar College, 1944–46.

CAREER: Writer and photographer. British Save the Children Fund, social worker and administrator in Italy, including locations in Lucania and Calabria, 1954–63. Indiana University, Patten Foundation Lecturer, 1979.

AWARDS, HONORS: Special award, National Institute of Arts and Letters, and American Academy Award in literature, both 1974; Guggenheim fellow, 1977; Christopher Award, 1980.


(And photographer) Torregreca: Life, Death, Miracles (excerpt originally appeared in Atlantic, August, 1968), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1969, reprinted, Steerforth Italia (South Royalton, VT), 2002.

Vendetta of Silence (novel), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1971.

(And photographer) Women of the Shadows, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1976, published as Women of the Shadows: Wives and Mothers of Southern Italy, Steerforth Italia (South Royalton, VT), 2001.

Strangers and Pilgrims: The Last Italian Migration, Holt (New York, NY), 1980, published in London, England as Flight from Torregreca, Macmillan, 1980.

Any Four Women Could Rob the Bank of Italy (novel), Holt (New York, NY), 1983.

Where It All Began: Italy, 1954 (memoir), Dutton, (New York, NY), 1990.

Contributor of a story to Atlantic.

SIDELIGHTS: American-born Ann Cornelisen made Italy her home since 1954, when she began working there for the British Save the Children Fund. Her experiences as a social worker in a poverty-stricken town in the south of Italy formed the basis for much of her published work, including Torregreca: Life, Death, Miracles, Women of the Shadows, and Strangers and Pilgrims: The Last Italian Migration. In order to write truthfully about sensitive subjects, Cornelisen used aliases and the name "Torregreca" to shield the identity of the village in which she lived.

A Time magazine writer called Torregreca "an exquisite nonfiction novel of sensibility." Thomas G. Bergin, writing in Saturday Review, believed that the book "has rather more humor than most studies of this kind," and that Cornelisen has "a skillful pen for depicting landscape and scenes of activity. She is equally successful in her portraits of the rugged characters she meets in the course of her laudable enterprise of beginning a day care center for the town's children." Harper's reviewer R. R. Gambee found that Cornelisen "is not only an accomplished and entertaining writer, but she also offers frank, knowledgeable appraisals of the character of the church, of rural Italian mentality, of a cycle of poverty and despair with parallels in American society."

In Strangers and Pilgrims, Cornelisen traced the migration of some of her Torresi friends from Torregreca to the industrialized cities of northern Italy and West Germany, where they found work as unskilled laborers. Peter Nichols praised the book in the Times Literary Supplement as a "deeply human study of southern Italians who have sought their fortunes in emigration." Nichols further noted that Cornelisen "is a great recorder…. She avoids any resemblance to a sociological report, although she is handling a serious sociological problem." Ronald Blythe, writing in the New York Times Book Review, felt that Cornelisen managed to continue a genuine relationship with members of the Torregreca community while writing about their deepest personal problems "by ennobling her account of the experience by using some of the literary techniques of a first-class novelist." In a review for the Detroit News, Joseph Barbato wrote: "Cornelisen succeeds brilliantly in depicting these courageous survivors as people, not the 'docile ergs' of the government statistics. In the end, 'Strangers and Pilgrims' transcends place and time, forming a heart-breaking testament to the spirit of all migrant people."

Cornelisen turned to the novel and to a wealthier area of Italy for Any Four Women Could Rob the Bank of Italy. As the title suggests, the story concerns a group of women who set out to prove that their gender will shield them from any suspicion after a dramatic theft. According to Pico Iyer in Time, "Cornelisen is so much at home with the Italian scene and its cosmopolitan settlers that she can at once see through them and like what she perceives." "Miss Cornelisen has produced a novel that is a romp," wrote Helen Dudar in the New York Times Book Review. "The whole book teems with juicy characters and plot complications." Elaine Kendall called the work "an airy satire" in the Los Angeles Times, and concluded: "Although this proof of Cornelisen's versatility is a pleasant surprise, her heart clearly remains with the unsung forgotten heroines of the Southern provinces, her disdain for the footling problems of the overprivileged … obvious despite the good-natured humor."



Cornelisen, Ann, Where It All Began: Italy, 1954, Dutton, (New York, NY), 1990.


Belles Lettres, winter, 1992, Rita Signorelli-Pappas, review of Where It All Began: Italy, 1954, Torregreca: Life, Death, Miracles, and Women of the Shadows, p. 53.

Booklist, February 15, 1990, review of Where It All Began, p. 1135.

Detroit News, April 13, 1980, Joseph Barbato, review of Strangers and Pilgrims: The Last Italian Migration.

Harper's, April, 1969, R. R. Gambee, review of Torregreca.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1989, review of Where It All Began, p. 1719.

Library Journal, February 1, 1990, Gwen Gregory, review of Where It All Began, p. 90.

Los Angeles Times, February 2, 1984, Elaine Kendall, review of Any Four Women Could Rob the Bank of Italy; September 29, 2002, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of Torregreca, p. R15.

New Yorker, May 7, 1990, review of Where It All Began, p. 110.

New York Times, January 24, 1984.

New York Times Book Review, September 13, 1980, Ronald Blythe, review of Strangers and Pilgrims; February 12, 1984, Helen Dudar, review of Any Four Women Could Rob the Bank of Italy; February 18, 1990, Frederika Randall, review of Where It All Began, p. 29; September 8, 2002, Scott Veale, review of Torregreca, p. 28.

Publishers Weekly, December 15, 1989, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Where It All Began, p. 51.

Saturday Review, March 8, 1969, Thomas G. Bergin, review of Torregreca.

Time, March 8, 1969, review of Torregreca; February 20, 1984, Pico Iyer, review of Any Four Women Could Rob the Bank of Italy.

Times Literary Supplement, August 15, 1980, Peter Nichols, review of Strangers and Pilgrims.

Washington Post Book World, June 22, 1980.

Women's Review of Books, October, 1990, review of Where It All Began, p. 13.



Los Angeles Times, November 15, 2003, p. B29.

New York Times, November 14, 2003, p. A23.

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Cornelisen, Ann 1926–2003

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