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7 April 2021

From Paris : an interview with Fabio Gambaro, director of Italissimo

Paolo Grossi

The first edition of the Italian literature and culture festival Italissimo was held in Paris in 2015, with this year marking the festival’s sixth edition. We speak to Fabio Gambaro, who, from the very first edition, has organised and planned the festival together with Cristina Piovani and Evelyn Prawidlo.

How has Italissimo been affected by the long health emergency?

Well, as a result of the health crisis, the 2020 edition, which should have been held in April, was postponed till October and, even then, it was uncertain right up to the last minute whether people would be allowed to attend the event. In the end, the festival was able to go ahead just a few days before the second lockdown wa imposed. Obviously, it was a rather different edition, not only because some of the Italian guests we had invited were unable to come to Paris, but also because the number of people present at the event was limited to comply with the health restrictions. Those present were very happy with the event, however. Some of the participants (Gianrico Carofiglio, Paolo Giordano, Antonio Scurati and Tosca) participated remotely, while others were live on stage (Ascanio Celestini, Dario Levantino, Ottavia Casagrande, Nadia Busato and Pacifico). It was, in any case, a hybrid event, with some people physically present and others taking part remotely, opening up new possibilities for future editions – obviously, there can never be a festival without some of the authors being physically present. In any case, Italissimo managed to maintain its main features, namely that of a festival taking place at a variety of venues (Maison de la Poésie, the Italian Cultural Institute, schools, cinemas, etc.), offering a diverse programme of events related to contemporary Italian literature, though not exclusively, and creating the conditions for a dialogue with French culture.


When will this year’s edition be taking place? And what are the themes, who are the protagonists and what are the highlights of this year’s programme?

This year’s edition will also, of course, be conditioned by the health situation. Above all, as regards its dates. Traditionally, Italissimo is held at the beginning of April, but this year it was too much of a risk, so it was decided to hold the festival at the beginning of July (1-4). To maintain the Spring connection, we decided, however, to organise a day of meetings and readings on 10 April, as a sort of preview of the festival itself. Much of the day’s programme will be devoted to Dante, to mark the 700th anniversary of the poet’s death, with the participation of Alessandro Barbero, Diego Marani, Patrick Boucheron and Mélanie Traversier. The event, which will be held at the Maison de la Poésie and has been given the invaluable support of the Italian Embassy, will conclude with a reading of Goliarda Sapienza by Anna Mouglalis.

In July, the festival will be held, as in previous years, at a variety of venues and will offer a full programme of meetings, roundtables, readings and shows. Sandro Veronesi, Carlo Lucarelli, Milena Agus, Giancarlo De Cataldo, Roberto Andò, Davide Enia, Viola Ardone, Alessio Forgione, Beatrice Alemagna, Simonetta Greggio and Gilda Piersanti have already confirmed that they will be taking part (we are still awaiting confirmation from Stefano Massini and Stefania Auci among many others). As in all previous editions, there will be a particular focus on the work of translators, with, for example, a discussion between Sandro Veronesi and his translator Dominique Vittoz. Another major event is the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Leonardo Sciascia, with discussions and the showing of four films based on his novels. Finally, we are also studying the possibility of organising an autumn-day event of Italissimo in a town in provincial France (such as Lyon, Avignon, Aix-en-Provence or Lille) to take the experience of the festival and what it offers outside of Paris.


Thinking ahead to 2022, when Italy will be “pays à l’honneur” (“guest of honour”) at the Salon du Livre in Paris, does Italissimo have any special initiatives planned?

Well, to be truthful, at the moment Italy’s presence at the Salon du Livre in Paris in 2022 is still far from certain. As the last two editions – 2020 and 2021 – have been cancelled because of the pandemic, nobody knows what is going to happen in 2022. Besides, French publishers are currently considering a new format to replace the event traditionally held at the Palais des Expositions at Porte de Versailles, though, for the moment, nothing definite has been decided. We shall have to wait and see what they decide to do. In any case, we hope that the event will go ahead, because it is twenty years since Italian writers and publishers last had such an important showcase. For this reason, thinking ahead to this event in 2022, Italissimo will be organising, a few days before the festival in July, together with the Italian Trade and Investment Agency in Paris, a meeting between Italian and French publishers to discuss the relations and business between Italy and France. In addition to a dozen or so Italian and French publishers, we will also be inviting representatives of the Associazione Italiana Editori, the Syndicat National du Livre, the Centro per il Libro and the Centre National du Livre. Finally, Italy will actually be the guest of honour at the new-look Salon du Livre de Paris in 2022, Italissimo will make sure that it coordinates its activities and dates with the organisers of the Paris book fair so that it can contribute towards what will undoubtedly be a very important event. With that in mind, we are already thinking about a special edition with even more events and more authors, and also a few surprises.