Romano, Tony 1957-
Romano, Tony 1957-
Born June 30, 1957; married; children: three daughters. Education: DePaul University, B.A.; Northeastern Illinois University, M.A.
Home—Glen Ellyn, IL. Agent—Marly Rusoff & Associates, Inc., P.O. Box 524, Bronxville, NY 10708.
William Fremd High School, Palatine, IL, teacher of English and psychology. Producer of spoken-word CDs.
Whetstone Prize; grants from the Illinois Arts Council; twice winner of the PEN Syndicated Fiction Project; two Pushcart Prize nominations.
(With Frank B. McMahon and Judith W. McMahon) Psychology and You (high school textbook), West Publishing (St. Paul, MN), 1990, 2nd edition, 1995.
When the World Was Young (novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2007.
(With Gary Anderson) Expository Composition: Discovering Your Voice, foreword by Naomi Shihab Nye, EMC Publishing (St. Paul, MN), 2008.
Contributor to periodicals, including the Chicago Tribune, Whetstone, Sou'wester, Bluff City, and VIA: Voices in Italian Americana.
Romano's fiction has been produced for National Public Radio.
Tony Romano has spent many years teaching psychology and English at William Fremd High School in Palatine, Illinois. He is the coauthor of two nonfiction books, the high school textbook Psychology and You, with Frank B. McMahon and Judith W. McMahon, and Expository Composition: Discovering Your Voice, with Gary Anderson.
Romano is a writer of short stories and has received two Pushcart Prize nominations and has twice won the PEN Syndicated Fiction Project. He is also the author of a first novel, When the World Was Young. Set in 1950s Chicago, it is the story of the Italian American Peccatori family. Agostino and Angela Rosa are immigrants who miss their Italian hometown but who are kept busy raising their five children. Agostino and his brother Vincenzo own a neighborhood tavern in a building that was formerly a funeral home. His work exposes him to temptations that he does not resist. Angela is happier at home in the unfamiliar culture and spends most of her time cooking and cleaning while her husband is at the bar. Her marriage is now passionless, and she silently tolerates her husband's infidelities. Santo, their eldest, has recently graduated from high school and is looking for girls and independence, while attempting to emulate the ease with which his father handles life. Sixteen-year-old Victoria breaks the rules and flirts with local hood Eddie Milano, and Santo tries to intervene. He also is curious about an attack on his father by an older Italian woman and becomes increasingly aware of his father's indiscretions.
The story takes a turn when their two-year-old Benito becomes ill and dies of a high fever. Angela grieves for him while feeling she could have somehow prevented his death. Agostino thinks his child's death is punishment for his adultery. This event will haunt the family for many years to come.
A Kirkus Reviews contributor praised the story and the characters Victoria and Santo as "especially well-drawn figures among the young generation." A Publishers Weekly critic wrote of the "rich vein of material in a place and time buffeted by changing mores, insularity and tenuous ties." Booklist reviewer Joanne Wilkinson was impressed by Romano's depiction of the Chicago neighborhood, with its shops and magnificent Catholic church. Wilkinson noted that Romano "describes the mourning process in heart-wrenching passages even as he relays the love and the secrets."
When asked how he first became interested in writing, Romano told CA: "Swimming. Or lack thereof. For some reason, many Italian immigrants, though they were surrounded by water nearly their entire lives, never learned to swim and never tried to enroll their children in swim classes. They simply didn't think of it, worrying instead about how they'd get in enough hours at the factory so they could feed their children. This was my world, at least. We lived about ten minutes away from Lake Michigan (every distance in Chicago is measured in minutes rather than miles), so my friends would take the Chicago Transit Authority bus every so often to the lake and dive in. Because I feared they'd throw me in, and I wouldn't blame them, I stayed behind and amused myself by reading comic books. Soon I became enthralled and obsessed and began scrounging the neighborhood for discarded pop bottles that I could cash in for two cents each at Bruno's, where I trekked each Thursday morning to see the latest installments of Superman and Batman. Some of my fondest memories are of sitting on the stoop, immersed in this other, more colorful world. In other words, an interest in writing always begins with an interest in reading, and this was my start.
"On my stoop, I'd read not only comic books, but also books by the authors H.P. Lovecraft, Harlan Ellison, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Allan Poe. A little later I read Philip Roth. Now I read and am inspired by Richard Russo, Geraldine Brooks, Don DeLillo, as well as many others.
"In terms of ideas, I'm mainly influenced by the dynamics of family. I'd like to think that I'm writing about universal issues, but I don't know any other way of approaching those issues other than through the screen door and the kitchen and the living room.
"I still haven't found a solid writing routine over the years. At times, I write in a bound notebook (not one with rings because I'm a lefty and the world of notebooks is unfriendly to lefties), skipping lines, pushing forward each day, weaving in ideas from the previous day's work. If I feel stuck, I'll move to the computer. Lately, I've holed myself away in our storage room, a place where no one needs access. I have a CD player and a dictionary and a laptop, and I wish I had hid myself away sooner because I'm being fairly productive. To have a place where you can write undisturbed for a few hours is key since this allows you to enter a waking dream state. When people ask me, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ I sometimes ask, ‘Where do you get your dreams?’ I don't expect an answer, but what I mean is that the writing ideas are just as elusive in origin. I don't want to know where I get my ideas from, as long as they keep coming. And it's not a mystical process. Anyone disciplined enough to sit and wait and listen will have ideas worth writing about.
"I've always viewed writing as a solitary activity, but true writing brings people together. I help coordinate an event at my school we call Writers Week, during which writers from around the country converge on our campus to read and discuss their work. Students and faculty take to the stage as well. I am inspired anew by the risks writers take in sharing their work, especially student writers. And the audience recognizes the inherent risks in sharing one's work. As a result, a sense of community develops. It's one of the things I do that I'm most proud of."
When asked which of his books is his favorite, Romano responded: "I think most writers say this: my favorite book is the one I'm currently working on. It's the most important because it's the only way I can continue to call myself a writer. I do have a special fondness for my first book, When the World Was Young, because before it was published, after being rejected for about five years, I seriously questioned whether I'd keep sending work out. I almost gave in to the rejections and began to believe that the rejections were a reflection of the work. I'm glad I didn't listen."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 2007, Joanne Wilkinson, review of When the World Was Young, p. 35.
Chicago Sun-Times, May 19, 2007, review of When the World Was Young.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2007, review of When the World Was Young.
Library Journal, May 15, 2007, Joshua Cohen, review of When the World Was Young, p. 84.
Philadelphia Enquirer, August 5, 2007, review of When the World Was Young.
Publishers Weekly, April 16, 2007, review of When the World Was Young, p. 30.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), May 19, 2007, Kristin Kloberdanz, "Preserving a More-Innocent Past," p. 5; May 19, 2007, Jessica Treadway, review of When the World Was Young, p. 5; June 2, 2007, Kristin Kloberdanz, review of When the World Was Young, p. 7.