Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino (October 15,1923September 19, 1985) was an Italian writer and novelist.

Born in Santiago de Las Vegas, Cuba, to botanists Mario Calvino and Evelina Mameli (a descendant of Goffredo Mameli) and brother of Floriano Calvino, a famous geologist, he soon moved to his family's homeland of Italy, where he lived most of his life.



He stayed in San Remo, on the Italian Riviera, for some 20 years, and enrolled in the Avanguardisti (a fascist youth organisation to which membership was practically compulsory) with whom he took part in the occupation of the French Riviera. He suffered some religious troubles, his relatives being followers of the Waldensian Protestant Church. He met Eugenio Scalfari (later a politician and the founder of the major newspaper La Repubblica), with whom he would remain a close friend.

In 1941 he moved to Turin, after a long hesitation over living in this town or Milan. He often humorously described this choice, and used to define Turin as "a city that is serious but sad."

In 1943, he joined the Partisans in the Italian Resistance, in the Garibaldi brigade, with the battlename of Santiago, and with Scalfari he created the MUL (liberal universitarian movement). He then entered the (still clandestine) Italian Communist Party.

In 1947, Calvino graduated from Turin's university with a thesis on Joseph Conrad and started working with the official Communist paper L'Unit; he also had a short relationship with the Einaudi publishing house, which put him in contact with Norberto Bobbio, Natalia Ginzburg, Cesare Pavese and Elio Vittorini. With Vittorini he wrote for the weekly Il Politecnico (a cultural magazine associated with the university). He then left Einaudi to work mainly with L'Unit and the newborn communist weekly political magazine Rinascita.

In 1950, he worked again for the Einaudi house, where he became responsible for the literary volumes. The following year, presumably in order to verify a possibility of advancement in the communist party, he visited the Soviet Union. The reports and correspondence he produced from this visit were later collected and earned him literary prizes.

In 1952 Calvino wrote with Giorgio Bassani for Botteghe Oscure, a magazine named after the popular name of the party's head-offices, and worked for Il Contemporaneo, a Marxist weekly.

It was in 1957 that Calvino unexpectedly left the Communist party, and his letter of resignation (soon famous) was published in L'Unit.

He found new spaces for his periodic writings in the magazines Passato e Presente and Italia Domani. Together with Vittorini he became a co-editor of Il Menab di letteratura, a position that he held for many years.

Despite the previously severe restrictions for foreigners holding communist views, he was allowed to visit the United States, where he stayed six months (four of which he spent in New York), after an invitation by the Ford Foundation. Calvino was particularly impressed by the "New World": "Naturally I visited the South and also California, but I always felt a New Yorker. My city is New York." In the States he also met Esther Judith Singer, whom he married a few years later in Havana, during a trip in which he visited his birthplace and met Ernesto Che Guevara.

Back in Italy, and once again working for Einaudi, he started publishing some of his cosmicomics in Il Caff, a literary magazine.

Vittorini's death in 1966 had a heavy influence on Calvino and caused him to experience what has been defined as an "intellectual depression", which the writer himself described as an important passage in his life: "...I ceased to be young. Perhaps it's a metabolic process, something that comes with age, I'd been young for a long time, perhaps too long, suddenly I felt that I had to begin my old age, yes, old age, perhaps with the hope of prolonging it by beginning it early".

He then started to frequent Paris (where he was nicknamed L'ironique amus). Here he soon joined some important circles like the Oulipo (Ouvroir de littrature potentielle) and met Roland Barthes and Claude Lvi-Strauss, in the fermenting atmosphere that was going to evolve into the 1968's cultural revolution (the French May); in his French experience he also became fond of Raymond Queneau's works, which would have sensibly influenced his later production.

Calvino also had more intense contacts with the academic world, with notable experiences at the Sorbonne (with Barthes) and at Urbino's university. His interests included classical studies (Honor de Balzac, Ludovico Ariosto, Dante, Ignacio de Loyola, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Cyrano de Bergrac, Giacomo Leopardi) while at the same time, not without a certain surprise from the Italian intellectual circles, he wrote novels for Playboy's Italian edition (1973). He became a regular contributor to the important Italian newspaper (Corriere della Sera).

In 1975 he was made Honorary Member of the American Academy, the following year he was awarded the Austrian State Prize for European Literature. He visited Japan and Mexico and gave lectures in several American towns.

In 1981 he was awarded the prestigious French Lgion d'Honneur.

In 1985 he died in Siena at the ancient hospital of Santa Maria della Scala of a cerebral hemorrhage.

If On a Winter's Night a Traveler

Perhaps Calvino's most famous novel, this begins with the words, "You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveller." It's a novel therefore in which the reader plays a starring role. The reader gets a love interest, the Other Reader, and obstacles thrown in his way. In particular, the first story runs out after only a chapter. A pattern is quickly set up with single chapters of novels being cut off in their prime. Interspersed with these are chapters in which the reader's story, the pursuit of the end of these intriguing novels, and the pursuit of the Other Reader, is played out.


(dates are of original publication)

Posthumous editions:


Italo Calvino

I set my hand to the art of writing early on. Publishing was easy for me, and I at once found favor and understanding. But it was a long time before I realized and convinced myself that this was anything but mere chance.
Everything can change, but not the language that we carry inside us, like a world more exclusive and final than one's mother's womb.
Your first book already defines you, while you are really far from being defined. And this definition is something you may then carry with you for the rest of your life, trying to confirm it or extend or correct or deny it; but you can never eliminate it. (preface to The Path to the Nest of Spiders)
In an age when other fantastically speedy, widespread media are triumphing and running the risk of flattening all communication onto a single, homogeneous surface, the function of literature is communication between things that are different simply because they are different, not blunting but even sharpening the differences between them, following the true bent of the written language. (Six Memos for the Next Millennium)
Then we have computer science. It is true that software cannot exercise its powers of lightness except through the weight of hardware. But it is the software that gives the orders, acting on the outside world and on machines that exist only as functions of software and evolve so that they can work out ever more complex programs. The second industrial revolution, unlike the first, does not present us with such crushing images as rolling mills and molten steel, but with "bits" in a flow of information traveling along circuits in the form of electronic impulses. The iron machines still exist, but they obey the orders of weightless bits.
(Six Memos for the Next Millennium {Lightness})

Gore Vidal

Italo Calvino has advanced far beyond his American and English contemporaries. As they continue to look for the place where the spiders make their nests, Calvino has not only found this special place but learned how himself to make fantastic webs of prose to which all things adhere.

External links

de:Italo Calvino es:Italo Calvino fr:Italo Calvino it:Italo Calvino ja:イタロ・カルヴィーノ mk:Итало Калвино fi:Italo Calvino pl:Italo Calvino zh:伊塔罗·卡尔维诺


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