Interview with Julia Nannicelli editor in charge of Italian and Mediterranean literature at Gallimard
Gallimard has always been one of the French publishers that devotes a large part of its catalogue to Italian authors. Julia Nannicelli, editor in charge of the Italian and Mediterranean area, presents the publishing house’s new releases and programmes on the occasion of the Festival du livre de Paris, where Italy will be the country in the spotlight.
Gallimard has always been one of the most active publishers in France in the translation of Italian titles. How has the publishing house’s focus on Italian books evolved in recent years?
Italian literature immediately found its place in the Gallimard catalogue. The first titles appeared in the ‘Blanche’ series in the 1920s with authors such as Luigi Pirandello and Italo Svevo, and then in the ‘Du monde entier’ series, created in 1931. This series includes many important Italian authors of the 20th century (Elio Vittorini, Giorgio Bassani, Cesare Pavese and Eugenio Montale, only to name a few). Several major authors are also published in the series ‘L’Arpenteur’, which Italian section, created in 1988, includes Giovanni Verga, Beppe Fenoglio, Pietro Citati, Cristina Campo and also Claudio Magris, whose new works are still published today in the series that brough him to fame.
Some authors, such as Anna Maria Ortese, Pier Paolo Pasolini or Elsa Morante – who was published by Gallimard from her very first book – have become classics and today continue their lives essentially in the house’s paperback or trade paperback series (Folio, Poésie/Gallimard, L’Imaginaire), which allow this very rich range of titles to live on.
In recent years, some major key-authors of the Italian 20th century have also been added to the catalogue, for which we have developed specific editorial plans, in close collaboration with copyright owners, through a meticulous work on the re-translation and publication of unpublished titles. This is the case for works by Italo Calvino and Antonio Tabucchi.
The promotion of these authors also translates into enhancing the connections we create between voices from the past and voices of the present, as when we try to highlight the topics and tensions that inspire the writing of contemporary authors, such as Anna Maria Ortese, an important author for Elena Ferrante.
Alongside this work by authors from a more recent past, we continue to develop a contemporary catalogue which is among the richest in French publishing. Italian is now the second language, after English, in our annual catalogue of new foreign literature. Gallimard now welcomes a significant number of major Italian names: Erri De Luca, Alessandro Baricco, Roberto Saviano, Elena Ferrante, but also Roberto Calasso, Caterina Bonvicini, Francesca Melandri, Andrea Bajani, among others: a contemporary catalogue we are committed to enrich with new entries, regularly publishing discoveries and first novels. The publication of Fabio Bacà‘s debut novel in 2022 testifies to this desire to offer bold and innovative literature, where the pleasure of reading coexists with an indispensable literary quality.
From your vantage point on the French side of the border, what is your view of current Italian publishing? Which trends appear particularly important to you?
The Italian publishing industry of today seems very vital to me, and I am struck by the large number of very active small publishers with strong and often demanding editorial lines, which is a very good sign for creativity. The independent publishing fair, held in Rome in December, is a very persuasive showcase. I have read some very good texts, some of which are however are not always easy to export: the criteria are different when it comes to making choices so as to propose works for translation.
Current trends vary: we can mention, for example, a growing presence of the memoirs, no doubt due to the influence of Anglo-American literature, but there is also a greater propensity for introspection. It seems to me that fiction is moving more and more towards an intimate outlook of life, both in the sense of soul-searching as well as in the coming to terms with social phenomena. However, historical fiction, family sagas or genre literature are still very much present and seem to have a bright future ahead of them.
Creative writing courses also have an important influence on many young writers. For some they are effective tools, while in other cases we see a clever re-hashing of tried and tested ‘recipes’ that recycle topics and patterns from the publishing successes of recent years.
For our catalogue, I try to endorse books characterised by true originality, a breath of fresh air, or at any rate books that carry a spark that sparks a real passion for reading and makes us feel that we are in front of a text that is sufficiently powerful and profound to continue to be read for decades to come. For this to occur, the quality of writing is essential. Our editorial line is quite open, but it’s always dictated by a long-term vision.
Finally, an interesting trend, which has developed further since the pandemic, is the rediscovery of modern classics, or ‘repêchages’, as the Italians like to call them, using this French term. These are very interesting opportunities, as they bring back to our attention very beautiful texts, often forgotten or misunderstood, which fit perfectly into the long-term mentioned above. In this category, we can mention Last Summer in the City by Gianfranco Calligarich, or Her Side of the Story by Alba de Cespédes, two magnificent novels with very different publishing backgrounds, which we have successfully published in the last two years in the series ‘Du monde entier’.
What are your plans for the immediate future, especially for the next edition of the Paris Book Festival, where Italy will be the guest of honour?
2023 will be an important year for the promotion of Italian literature in France, as Italy will be the guest of honour at the Paris Book Festival. We put forward a rich programme focusing on contemporary authors in the first half of the year: an essay by Roberto Saviano, Crie-le! (Scream it out) will be published in January, followed by Andrea Bajani‘s latest novel in February (Le livre des maisons, The Book of Houses), Erri De Luca‘s Grandeur nature (Life-size), and Elena Ferrante, whose fascinating collection on her relationship with writing and reading will soon be published. New titles by better-known authors will follow in May: a second novel by Alba de Céspedes, an important 20th-century author whose re-edition of On Her Side, mentioned above, and whose Forbidden Notebook will be published as a second edition; an unpublished work in French by Antonio Tabucchi, Les Tsiganes et la Renaissance (The Gypsies and the Renaissance), a sociological essay on the Roma people in Florence that still resonates strongly today. In the second half of the year, a major project, Italo Calvino‘s unpublished correspondence in French, will be the occasion to celebrate the centenary of the author’s birth in September 2023; finally, Roberto Calasso‘s The Book of All Books will close the year.