July 25, 2012

Italy’s anti-mafia literary festival


Guido Scarabottolo with the festival tote bag featuring the "Trame 2" logo he designed.

The second annual “Trame” (“Plots” in English) literary festival was held at the end of June this year in southern Italy. It is billed on the festival website as the “first cultural event in Italy dedicated to books about the mafia.” Featuring workshops and author events with journalists, legal prosecutors, historians and writers who dealt with the mafia first hand, the five day festival took place in Lamezia Terme on the west coast of Calabria, a town in the heartland of the ‘Ndrangheta, the mafia organization that is an active presence in the lives of the people of who live there.

Festival director Lirio Abbate knows how powerful organized crime can be in southern Italy. As a journalist, he was embedded with the police team who arrested the Cosa Nostra “Boss of Bosses” Bernardo Provenzano in 2006. Later, a bomb was discovered under his car, and now he has armed protection at all times.

As described by Elisabetta Povoledo in the New York Times, the literary festival is a way for the people to speak out against the mafia and their rein of terror—something that is very real in Italy, as opposed to the way it is glorified in the United States.

“Calabria today is Palermo 30 years ago, where you couldn’t say the word Mafia out loud,” Mr. Abbate said, referring to the Sicilian city. “That’s why we came here, to bring magistrates, journalists, authors and try and break the wall of omertà,” the code of silence that has frustrated law enforcement in clan-dominated regions.

The book festival also capitalizes on what one publisher called a “literary boom” in Italy of books about the Mafia and its regional counterparts: the Neapolitan Camorra, Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia, and the local ‘Ndrangheta variety.

The article mentions that the mafia lit phenomenon began with the wild popularity of Roberto Saviano’s 2006 book Gomorroah. Saviano began his career interviewing members of the Camorra, a powerful and violent Italian organized crime network in Naples. At the time, he was working as a research assistant to Nanni Balestrini, who was writing Sandokan, now translated into English and part of Melville House’s Contemporary Art of the Novella series. The novella is fiction, but it tells the real story of the Camrorra through the voice of one of their victims, who lives in a southern Italian town very much like Lamezia Terme, where “Trame” was held.


Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.