Maffi, Mario 1947–

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Maffi, Mario 1947–

PERSONAL: Born May 23, 1947, in Milan, Italy; son of Bruno (a translator) and Anna (a homemaker) Maffi; married Maria Matilde Merli (a headmistress), May 7, 1973; children: Alice. Education: University of Milan, graduated (summa cum laude), 1971. Hobbies and other interests: Theater, travel.

ADDRESSES: Agent—Grandi e Associati, Via Caradosso 12, 20123 Milan, Italy. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: State University of Milan, Milan, Italy, assistant professor, 1975–98, associate professor of American studies, 1998–, and member of scientific board, Centro di Studi Stati Uniti. Member of Museum of Chinese in the Americas and Tenement Museum, both New York, NY.

MEMBER: European Association for American Studies, Italian Association for American Studies, American Studies Association, Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States.

AWARDS, HONORS: Libro Giovane Award, Unione Italiana per il Progresso della Cultura, 1975, for La cultura underground.


La cultura underground, Laterza (Bari, Italy), 1972, 3rd edition, 1980.

Le origini della sinistra extraparlamentare, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1976.

La giungla e il grattacielo: Gli scrittorie il "sogno americano," 1965–1920, Laterza (Bari, Italy), 1981.

(With Guido Fink, Franco Minganti, and Bianca Tarozzi) Storia della letteratura americana, Sansoni (Florence, Italy), 1991.

Nel mosaico della citta: Differenze etniche e nuove culture in un quartiere di New York, Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1992, translation by the author published as Gateway to the Promised Land: Ethnic Cultures in New York's Lower East Side, Rodopi (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1994, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1995.

New York: L'isola delle colline: i luoghi, la vita e le storie di una metropoli sconoscuiuta, photographs by Marlis Momber, Il Saggiatore (Milan, Italy), 1995, Feltrinelli Traveller (Milan, Italy), 2002.

(Editor) Voci dal silenzio, Feltrinelli (Milan, Italy), 1996.

Sotto le torri di Manhattan, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1998, Ohio State University Press (Columbus, OH), 2004.

Londra: Mappe, storie, labirinti, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 2000.

Mississippi: il grande fiume: un viaggio alle fonti dell's America, Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 2004.

An Outsider's Inside View, Ohio State University (Columbus, OH), 2004.

Translator of works from English to Italian, including the musicals Porgy and Bess and West Side Story, for Teatro alla Scala, as well as works by James Fenimore Cooper, Abraham Cahan, and Jack London. Contributor to scholarly journals. Editor of Acoma.

SIDELIGHTS: Mario Maffi is an Italian-born American studies scholar whose fascination with one particular location led him to write Nel mosaico della citta: Differenze etniche e nuove culture in un quartiere di New York, published in English as Gateway to the Promised Land: Ethnic Cultures in New York's Lower East Side. Maffi first viewed this New York neighborhood in 1975, and writes in the book that he was fascinated by its "creative energy." Maffi returned many times and found the Lower East Side to be the perfect "socio-cultural laboratory" in which to study American multiculturalism and "high" and "low" cultures. The groups upon which he directs his primary focus are the Chinese, Italians, and Jews, but he also follows the growth of the more recent Puerto Rican and other populations. Maffi draws on archival materials and such diverse influences as theater and literature in developing his study of the lives, work, and economic circumstances of citizens. He notes patterns of neighborhoods within the area, labor and political actions, and generational differences and relationships within various ethnicities. Betty Boyd Caroli wrote in the American Historical Review that this volume "is a careful, considered look at a section of New York that continues to fascinate."

In a later book, An Outsider's Inside View, Maffi returns to his study of New York with special attention paid to the Lower East Side, Greenwich Village, Harlem, and Spanish Harlem and the literary, artistic, and musical figures who populated and glorified them. He writes of various parks, museums, and architecturally unique and historic sites, extending his commentary to the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens. Quoted material is included, as are a bibliography and index and list of relevant Web sites.

Mario Maffi once told CA: "As a scholar, writer, and teacher in the field of American studies, my primary interest is the study of the dialectics between culture and society: the way in which culture(s) speaks of society and society speaks through culture(s).

"My first book La cultura underground came out of my university dissertation. It dealt with the American youth counter-culture in the sixties, with chapters on literature, politics, music, theater, and the movies. As the first Italian attempt at a general (and critical) overview of that contradictory experience, the book has remained somewhat of a classic.

"In some ways, my second book continued that analysis, but projected itself back into the past by going over the great debates between Marx and Bakunin, Lenin and the "economicists,' Bordiga and Gramsci, the Third International, and 'council communism.' The book traced the non-Marxist origins of many youth movements born in the late sixties and early seventies.

"Then came La giungla e il grattacielo: Gli scrittori e il" sogno americano, "1965–1920, which explored the difficult, often ambiguous, but always exceptionally creative relationship between writers and society in the United States from the Civil War to World War I. The first part dealt with general themes (such as the city, the machine, the popular press, the dime novels, the utopian novel, the political novel), the second part with specific authors.

"During the eighties, I edited and translated the work of many American and British authors, including Abraham Cahan, Tom Kromer, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, James F. Cooper, Arthur Morrison, and George Orwell, as well as an anthology of new American dramatists and, more recently, the work of Robert L. Stevenson and Mark Twain. In addition, with three university colleagues I worked at the first history of American literature to be published in Italy in some thirty years, Storia della letteratura americana.

"My major activity during those years, however, was a long and complex study of New York's Lower East Side, mainly (but not only) centered on the 1880–1920 'golden' period of this multi-ethnic immigrant neighborhood. The book that came out of this extremely involved experience was written directly in English and then translated (by me) into Italian. Based upon a great wealth of data and sources, and ten years of first-hand experience with the life of the neighborhood, the book tells of its physical and material aspects, its history and economy, its multi-ethnic realities, the social struggles that developed there, its art, fiction, and theater, the way in which it always functioned as a magnet for social and cultural exploration and experimentation, and its present critical, but still quite creative, stimulating situation. At the core of the book are the ideas of such neighborhoods as veritable socio-cultural laboratories and of Americanization as an alchemic process through which immigrant cultures (then and now) confront America and negotiate with it, transforming America while transforming themselves.

"The impact of the Lower East Side and my personal involvement with the social and cultural realities there was great. It was only inevitable that I should go back to it again. In fact, New York: L'isola delle colline is both a piece of travel writing, telling the story of my discovery of the city and of this multi-ethnic neighborhood, and an attempt at writing a city through my senses and through the words of its inhabitants, through the perception of its places and streets and through its memory and its micro-as well as macro-history. I have always been more interested in telling, in narrating American culture than in exploring this or that supposedly new theoretical trend. My approach to American culture and literature is a wide, comparative, and almost anthropological one, based on an interpretation of culture and literature in their dialectical relationship with classes and modes of production.

"I feel that the book New York represents a kind of turning point for me: toward a more personal and narrative style, even in the scholarly field. I don't know if this is a prelude to fiction, but I know that both my teaching and my writing have been taking a more involved and engaged (involving and engaging) aspect. When I think of the projects I have in mind (a book on islands, a book on Mark Twain and the Mississippi culture, perhaps another work on the Lower East Side and New York City), I surely think of them in this same form."

Maffi later added: "My two books, Sotto le torri di Manhattan and Londra: Mappe, storie, labirinti, are very much in this view—weaving together a personal approach and point of view and a scholarly discourse on peoples, places, cultures."



American Historical Review, February, 1997, Betty Boyd Caroli, review of Nel mosaico della citta: Differenze etniche e nuove culture in un quartiere di New York, p. 1499.

American Jewish History, March, 1996, Frederick M. Binder, review of Gateway to the Promised Land: Ethnic Cultures in New York's Lower East Side, pp. 64-65.

International Migration Review, winter, 1996, David M. Reimers, review of Gateway to the Promised Land, p. 1101.

Journal of American Ethnic History, spring, 1997, Daniel Soyer, review of Gateway to the Promised Land, p. 143.

Library Journal, April 14, 2004, Melinda Leach, review of An Outsider's Inside View.

Urban History Review, March, 1999, review of Gateway to the Promised Land, pp. 60-63.