Augusto Lentricchia Collection
Prepared by Professor Fred Gardaphe, Director of the Italian/American Studies Program at SUNY at Stony Brook.
All too rare are examples and accounts of the uses of literacy by Italian immigrants of the early 20th century. As such an account, the notebooks of Augusto Lentricchia are an important contribution to the knowledge of Italian American culture and for that reason I consider them to be important and of great value. Having read and studied them, I have come to the conclusion that they are unlike any other materials I have come across in my more than 25 years of doing research in the field of Italian American studies. Over that time I have researched Italian American materials in a number of places. The most important archive is currently maintained at the Immigration History Research Center of the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. It is a wonderful archive that contains the papers of a number of Italian American immigrants, primarily professionals, but nothing the likes of what is found in the Lentricchia notebooks.
What we have with the Lentricchia manuscripts is first-rate evidence that the immigrant was not a placid, apathetic, illiterate human being who was so busy working that he could not think deeply about life and his situation and express those thoughts in writing. The content of these notebooks gives us an extremely rare look at the thinking of a working class immigrant as he reflects on his situation as an immigrant and as an exploited worker. Most of the poems, in the early notebooks, reflect a radical bent that has nearly been erased in the consciousness of Americans of Italian descent. These notebooks restore that spirit and will be of great interest to scholars specializing in the working class studies and the history of American radical thought.
But these notebooks are not only important specimens of radical thinking, they are also extremely important for the style in which they are written. The Italian language used by Lentricchia struggles toward the standard but is clearly reflective of a local dialect, making it a primary source for the linguistic study of Italian dialects as well as Italian American English or what one scholar has labeled as ltalglish. The poems that are written in English represent the struggle for clear communication in a second language. This interplay among the dialects of English and Italian, or code switching, is a phenomenon worthy of a major article, if not an entire book.
These notebooks, besides giving us insight into the thinking of a single man, represent the rare reflection of an entire generation, most of whom did not keep such records of their lives through writing, or, if records were kept, they were, for the most part, destroyed by subsequent generations. I have no doubt that scholars throughout the country in the fields of linguistics, immigration culture, American studies, American literature, sociology, history, folklore, psychology, will find important data in these notebooks.
Beyond the obvious interest of those who study and write about American immigrant culture, these notebooks take on the role of giving students and scholars insights into the heritage of one of America's greatest living literary scholars and critics, Frank Lentricchia. Lentricchia, in a number of his major works, refers to Augusto Lentricchia and to these notebooks. There is no doubt that those scholars and students of his works will find great insights into Lentricchia's criticism and his recent creative works, for these notebooks have been thoroughly absorbed by Lentricchia and serve his creativity more than any other book he's read.
I have translated a number of the poems, which, with a head note composed by Frank Lentricchia, will appear in the spring, 2001 issue of Voices in Italian Americana, the journal of record in Italian American Studies. There is no doubt that the response to these translations will be strong and perhaps even generate a project through which all the poetry will be translated and published in a bi- or tri-lingual edition.
A leading scholar in early Italian immigrant literature written in Italian, Martino Marazzi, currently a fellow of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America at Columbia University, has reviewed these translations and writes: "These are certainly quite interesting and full of raw energy that is rarely found in manuscripts. There are a great number of rhetorical twists that echo the work of such masters as Arturo Giovannitti and other major Italian poets from the early 201h century. We Italian scholars will certainly benefit from these translations and from knowing that such a resource will be available for our studies."
These are just a few of the major projects that will result once these are made available to researchers through the SUNY-Stony Brook special collection archives. No doubt there will be others that we cannot yet imagine.
Prepared by John Larence Sharpe, CPRM, Inc., Hillsborough, North Carolina
There was little Italian emigration to the United States before 1870. However, Italy was now one of the most overcrowded countries in Europe and many began to consider the possibility of leaving Italy to escape low wages and high taxes. Most of these immigrants were from rural communities with very little education. From 1890 to 1900, 655,888 arrived in the United States, of whom two-thirds were men. A survey carried out that most planned to return once they had built up some capital. Most Italians found unskilled work in America's cities. There were large colonies in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, and Detroit. From 1900 to 1910 over 2,100,00 arrived. Of these, around 40 per cent eventually returned to Italy.
Willing to work long hours on low wages, the Italians now began to rival the Irish for much of the unskilled work available in industrial areas. This sometimes led to hostilities breaking out between the two groups of workers. The Italians were also recruited into the garment industry and by the outbreak of the World War I had replaced the Jews as the main group in the manual labor trades.
The Italians developed a reputation for becoming criminals. This was mainly due to high-profile criminals such as Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Joe Masseria, Albert Anastasia, Salvadore Marazano, Vito Genovese and Frank Costell. However, a study in Massachusetts revealed that the Italian-born, who comprised 8.0 per cent of the population of the state, made up only 4.2 per cent of those confined in penal institutions. Prejudice against Italians and anarchists contributed to the false conviction of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in 1921.
Italians became active in trade unions and produced several leaders such as Arthuro Giovannitti and Carlo Tresca. Second-generation Italians became important figures in progressive politics. This included figures such Fiorello LaGuardia, Vito Marcantonio, and Emmanuel Celler.During the period 1820 and 1920 over 4,190,000 people emigrated from Italy to the United States. Only Ireland (4,400,000) and Germany (5,500,000) came anywhere near these figures. By World War II there were more people of Italian stock living in New York City than in Rome.An investigation carried out in 1978 revealed that since 1820 over 5,294,000 people emigrated to the United States from Italy. This amounted to 10.9 per cent of the total foreign immigration during this period.
The story of Italian immigrants is seldom recorded in their own words. It is very rare to find stories, poems, and historical accounts about the world in which they lived. Rarer, indeed, is the capacity of these immigrants to use with facility their native language and at the same time English as a reflection of their concern to adapt to their adopted land.
Scope and Content
There are eight sections containing more than 1360 pages of handwritten text in the hand of Augusto Lentricchia. Also included in this collection are scrapbooks of newspaper and other clippings, dating from 1922-1979.Container Listing
"Memorie di A. Lentricchia, "Vol. 11, Rilegato." 2nd Vol. and list
Dates: The earliest date in this journal is February 1, 1922 and the last entry is dated October 10, 1922. However, there are dates in 1923, 1924 and 1925, and 1926 on the pages that are between the first and last pages.
Pages of text: There are 400 pages of text with a 12 page index at the end of the ledger.
Description of contents: The entire notebook is written in Italian. The majority of the works are poems of several verses and are written in blue ink. There are a few photographs placed within the poetry or prose. There is a complete index at the end of the 400 pages.
Size: The hard cover lined ledger is 20 x 27 centimeters.
"Ricordi Del Passato," A. Lentricchia
Dates: The dates of the clippings are not included but the events are clearly in the early 1930s.
Pages: All fifty pages of the album and the inside of the front and back covers are used to paste in the clippings.
Description of contents: The pictures and the subject matter of the album relate to political events in the United States and Europe. Pasted beside a news item on Hitler arresting two priests is a poem entitled "Cheer Up." On the lighter side, the scrapbook includes pictures of the Rose Bowl Queen and the girls in the Ice Capades. Although there are short clippings of poetry throughout the book, none of it is original.
Size: 24 x 28 centimeters
1) Paper 'clippins' of the Past,' 1973
Dates: The clippings from newspapers cover the time period from 1969 to 1979.
Pages: A personal calendar with the title "Visible Week" 1973 is used as a scrapbook for the newspaper clippings. 32 of the 116 pages are used. There are two short newspaper clippings that are laid in.
Description of contents: Many of the clippings in this collection are related to William Lentricchia and his family. Articles on medicine, religion and politics make up the remainder.
Size: 22 centimeters x 23 centimeters
2) "Antica Storia di Morolon mio Manoscritto"
Pages: The ledger has 148 pages: only 27 of them contain poetry and prose.
Description of Contents:
Size: 19cm x 30cm
1) University Notebook 1962, Augusto Lentricchia
Dates: January 5, 1918 to January 24, 1964
Pages of text: 215 containing 92 entries. There are 19 items laid in.
Description of contents:
111 poems with content ranging from Utica Strike to verses to his grandson
on his birthday on April, 23, 1964
2) University Notebook 1964, Augusto Lentricchia
Dates: September 20, 1964, to June 23, 1979
Pages: 215 with 91 entries. There are also 7 items laid in.
Description of Contents: One quarter of this holograph is prose and the remainder is poetry. Historical events in the diary range from the KKK to the war in Vietnam. His poetry which usually has four verses often are his thoughts on family events. The following is an example of some of the poetry:
Guerra alla Poverta
Size: 19cm x 25cm with a 1/4 board binding
"Memorie d. A. Lentricchia" Volume II Rilegato
Size: 23cm x 28cm
White envelope containing three manila folders. Each folder has lined pages of poetry.
Dates: Folder 1 has entries that range from 1927 to 1928
Folder 2 has entries that range from 1928 and to 1932
Folder 3 has entries that range from 1931 to 1933
Pages: Folder I has 150 pages of handwritten poetry and a few prose items that are written front and back of lined paper that appears to have been taken from a bound notebook.
Folder 2 has pages 151 to 300. It is also written on lined paper that was taken from a bound notebook.
Folder 3 has pages 301 to 309. It is also written on lined paper that was taken from a bound notebook.
Description of Contents: Each of the three folders contain lined pages with three hole punched in the sides. Most of the poetry is written in blue ink with a few poems in red ink. Each of the poems has several verses and all of them are written in Italian.
Size: Each of the folders is 24 x 29 centimeters.