Literary culture does not just mean ancient and dusty tomes, it is a living thing that is of great relevance to the here and now. And this is why Enel is offering its staff the opportunity to meet some of the most famous contemporary writers and engage in dialogue with them. The “Face to face with the written word” initiative and was launched in Rome on 7 December, 2019. It continued in 2020 in a digital format, while a new online edition began in January 2021. Its first guest was the famous Italian author Roberto Saviano.
Opening the series of encounters was American writer Joe Richard Lansdale, one of the most popular, genre-busting authors who delights in blurring the line between high and low culture. The conversation was very informal – the audience had the feeling they were talking to an amusing, friendly neighbour rather than one of America’s best-selling authors.
Born in Texas to an illiterate father, Lansdale soon became a voracious reader of comics, then science fantasy and narrative fiction, especially works by American authors. These texts were his only literature lessons, together with films and spoken stories. Lansdale developed from an omnivorous reader into an equally versatile writer. He made a name for himself with novels, stories and comics, TV and film scripts, ranging from crime to horror, pulp to social satire, noir to Westerns, mixing the genres within one novel but above all always retaining his characteristic ironic stance. His subversion of the hierarchies has also led Lansdale to have an explosive impact on Italian culture, especially at the turn of the new millennium.
For those seeking to acquaint themselves with his work for the first time the writer recommends starting with his novels “The Bottoms” and “Edge of Dark Water,” although he admits he prefers “Paradise Sky.” On the occasion of his encounter with our colleagues, Lansdale presented his biography “Joe Lansdale. In fondo è una palude,” written by his friend, the writer Seba Pezzani, who was also taking part in the event. Another Italian writer, Luca Briasco, chaired the conversation with the audience. Many people from our Group attended, from fans of the writer to those curious to meet this interesting figure, inspiring a lively debate confirming that his success in combining his work with his passion – which makes Lansdale a happy man – is exactly what we seek to achieve every day at Enel.
We are all “on life”
The second encounter featured linguist Vera Gheno and philosopher Bruno Mastroianni, the co-writers of “Tienilo acceso” (“Keep It On”), a short guide on how to learn and use words well online and enjoy a better internet experience. In discussion with the debate’s moderator Luca Briasco and colleagues from Enel, the two authors began with a rejection of the distinction between online and offline life. They believe that today we can speak only of “on life” because we are connected, and our behaviour – both online and in real life – is a key part of our way of being.
But how exactly should we handle “on life” discussions? Their advice is not to use an arrogant tone, which will persuade nobody to change their mind. Not only that, it puts you at risk of joining the “legion of imbeciles” which, according to the great late Umberto Eco at least, has been given a voice by the web. For Gheno and Mastroianni, the challenge is learning how to present your case patiently and more persuasively. We should also pay close attention to what we write, because everything can and will be published.
One special concern of increasing worry to parents is how to educate their children to use the Internet correctly. It’s a difficult objective and the authors believe that schools should play a role: instead of prohibiting mobile phones in class, they should teach students to adopt a critical approach to their use. The sources of information – and this also applies to adults – should be examined and assessed with the same care and discrimination we use when booking a holiday online.
Last but not least, Gheno and Mastroianni spoke of the beauty of the Italian language and invited us to take on responsibility for its wellbeing - each of us is a guardian of the language, even if it’s just a message on WhatsApp.
"Face to face" with Sandro Veronesi
The defence of the Italian language, together with that of the rules of democracy, was the subject of the third encounter in this series. Eclectic writer Sandro Veronesi – who, as Luca Briasco observed, it would be reductive to define a novelist – is the author of stories, novels (including the 2006 winner of the Strega Prize, "Caos Calmo" - "Quiet Chaos"), essays and reportages. Veronesi talked about his new book "Cani d’estate" (literally "Summer Dogs"), a pamphlet which looks at the odyssey of the migrant boats.
“I felt like the dogs in a valley that during the summer begin to bark all together: there is a reason for this, even though we don’t know what it is,” explained Veronesi, who intends, on one hand, to defend the Italian language from “scrambled story-telling” and, on the other, to promote respect for human rights and international maritime law.
The author also remarked on the dangers of climate change: desertification risks becoming a third cause for migration, in addition to war and poverty. Expanding on the topic, he explained that animals only migrate due to climatic factors.
“Face to Face” with Alessandro Piperno
The fourth encounter hosted Alessandro Piperno, winner of the 2012 Strega Prize for his novel “Inseparabili. Il fuoco amico dei ricordi” (Inseparable. The Friendly Fire of Memories). The writer used a quote from Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s The Crack-Up to describe his first steps in the publishing world: “Having success too young gives you the impression that life is a romantic business”. Piperno was 32 years old when, thanks to his first novel “Con le peggiori intenzioni” (The Worst Intentions), he experienced success that he describes as “explosive”.
The conversation, moderated by Luca Briasco, concentrated for the most part on the two novels in “Il fuoco amico dei ricordi” (The Friendly Fire of Memories) series – “Persecuzione” Persecution and “Inseparabili” (Inseparable) – and on Piperno’s idea of literature.
Marcel Proust and Franz Kafka were his inspiration for Persecuzione, in which the main character, Leo Pontecorvo, hides away in a basement because of his shame over a legal scandal that he is involved in. An “imposter syndrome” says the writer, that he experienced first-hand during the drafting of his second novel, until a comment from his partner brought an end to his crisis: “Alessandro, you are not Flaubert”.
The other central theme of the novel is the image of oneself, a motif that has conditioned Piperno’s professional choices. The writer talked about using the love for writing to avoid having “to carry oneself around and become a kind of avatar of oneself”.
“Face to Face” with Chiara Gamberale
The fifth encounter featured the writer and radio presenter Chiara Gamberale. A Premio Campiello (Campiello Prize) finalist in 2008 with “La Zona Cieca” (literally: The Blind Spot), she recently published her 12th novel “L’isola dell’abbandono” (literally: The Island of Abandonment).
Page by page, the art of abandonment and the almost heroic ability to stay are recounted through the emotional labyrinth experienced by the novel’s main character, Arianna. “We are used to thinking that in love those who get away are actually those who do get away,” said Gamberale, “however, almost always, those who chase also get away. What are they getting away from? From a real relationship, with themselves and the other person.”
The encounter, which was moderated by Luca Briasco, focused on the complex fragility of emotional relationships, which are often undermined by childhood traumas or deep-seated fears, by a “saviour complex” or strategies employed to avoid having to truly “deliver” ourselves to the other person. “Those who don’t know themselves are dangerous,” added the writer, explaining that she has noticed that taking care of other people’s problems is often a way of ignoring one’s own.
It is a novel that is dedicated to those who have the courage to stay “in their own skin, in their own fears, in their own story.”
“Face to Face” with Paolo Giordano
The sixth “A tu per tu con la parola scritta” (“Face to Face with the Written Word”) literary event featured Turin-born writer and physicist Paolo Giordano, who won the 2008 Strega Prize for his acclaimed literary debut “The Solitude of Prime Numbers.” Giordano wrote the novel, which Saverio Costanzo later turned into a film, at the age of just 25, when he was still unsure of which career to pursue.
Youthful choices and uncertain futures were the subjects under discussion also at the in-conversation event with the author which was moderated, as always, by Luca Briasco. Giordano’s latest novel, “Devour the Sky,” is a first-person account of the life of Teresa whose description of the masseria or farmhouse in Puglia is in stark contrast to her industrial hometown of Turin. Ecological themes also alternate with complex ethical issues such as surrogacy.
“The wonderful thing about novels is they take you inside another person’s mind,” stressed Giordano, who does not feel he has to confine himself to writing about his direct experiences. The characters in his novel are on a gruelling existential journey that does not reflect the author’s personal experience. “I wouldn’t be interested in reading about my life, so why would I be interested in writing about it?” he quipped to the amusement of the packed hall.
“Face to Face” with Antonio Manzini
The latest “A tu per tu con la parola scritta” (Face to Face With the Written Word) featured a dialogue with an author who has explored storytelling in a variety of forms, from acting to directing, script writing and finally, the novel. He is Antonio Manzini, one of Italy’s most popular crime writers and creator of Rocco Schiavone, the deputy chief of police who is the main character in the successful detective story saga that that went on to become a widely-acclaimed TV series starring Marco Giallini.
During the encounter Manzini talked of his experiences in the colourful, multi-faceted world of publishing. “I left the theatre because I didn’t want to do any more touring,” he said with a rueful smile, admitting he had taken part in ninety-four presentations involving the “surly cop”, and describing itinerant authors as they wander like ghosts, tired and dazed, from bookshop to bookshop, library to library across Italy. His latest book, a collection of stories called “Ogni riferimento è puramente casuale” (Any Similarity is Purely Accidental), is a rather scathing take on the literary industry, describing the quirks of the publishing business with a kind of grotesque, exaggerated realism. The questions came thick and fast, as did bursts of uproarious laughter from the audience attending this latest event in the “Face to face” series, which has made us love the world of books even more – despite all its faults.
“Face to Face” with Giancarlo De Cataldo
The ninth edition of “A tu per tu con la parola scritta” (“Face to Face with the Written Word”) had as its star the author whose work sparked the whole “TV series based on books” genre in Italy: Giancarlo De Cataldo. The public prosecutor, author, screenwriter and dramatist described the bloody years of the Banda della Magliana criminal organisation in Romanzo Criminale and mafia associations in present-day Rome in Suburra. Both novels produced first a film and then a TV series.
“Writing a TV series is different to writing a film. A series isn’t just a longer film,” De Cataldo told the event’s moderator, Luca Briasco.
When the producer of the film of Romanzo Criminale informed De Cataldo that they wouldn’t be stopping with the film but would be writing the script for a TV series, he was baffled. “I felt like I had entered a local amateur football tournament after winning the Champions League,” he said, clearly amused and then explained that the producer’s idea was spot on “because thanks to the series, we met Stefano Sollima, a great director.”
According to De Cataldo, whose latest work is Alba Nera (“Black Dawn,” published by Rizzoli), the language of television is coming on in leaps and bounds: “We have always considered the language of cinema to be far superior to TV, but some of the finest TV series are well on a par with great arthouse cinema.”
De Cataldo, who quit social media a few months ago, finished up with an observation about its abuse which, he said, “is causing a sort of atrophy of the frontal lobes, making us all prey to primitive emotions.” He then closed his address by warning his audience to avoid “the algorithm dictatorship.”
“Face to Face” with Concita De Gregorio
“Today, I’m your meal substitute, a kind of power bar.” This is how the writer and journalist Concita De Gregorio introduced herself before talking about her penultimate novel, “Nella notte” (“In the Night”), which was published by Feltrinelli, in an interview with Luca Briasco. “The book that we will talk about today is very much about me. Indeed, that continues with a second book, which has just come out,” De Gregorio went on to say. She was referring to “In tempo di guerra” (“In Time of War”), which is published by Einaudi.
“Nella notte” is both a political thriller and a generational study told through the story of two women. They have been friends since childhood and leave the Tuscan countryside for Rome. There they investigate the three ‘S’s that control the mechanisms of power: sex, secrets and silver (i.e. money). De Gregorio, who is an editorialist with La Repubblica (an Italian daily newspaper), where she receives hundreds of letters every day for her column “Invece Concita” (“Whereas Concita”), stressed how “the story talks about power in a way that no-one ever does.”
Talking about her professional and personal journey, the journalist, who also hosts the radio show Cactus on Radio Capital, described coming to Rome from Pisa in the early 1990s as a young Political Science graduate, arriving in the midst of the judicial storm caused by the “Operation Clean Hands” investigation (Mani Pulite).
“I am a curious person, I listen to other people and I get angry when there seems to be no solution to problems. I am not afraid and people who are not afraid are hard to understand,” she explained. And then, with a question to the audience, she concluded: “Where does moral authority come from? Freedom. And where does freedom come from? Culture.”
“Face to Face” with Michela Murgia
“When you write for children you need to be flexible in your language to keep meaning simple without devaluing its complexity.” The words of Michela Murgia as she introduced her new book “Noi siamo tempesta” (We are the Storm) (Salani), at the opening of the latest “A tu per tu con la parola scritta” event in the Auditorium at our Rome headquarters.
Murgia’s book for young adults (also recommended for grown-ups) tells the story of 16 adventures that changed the course of history through creative collaboration and shared goals. The conversation with Murgia, chaired by Luca Briasco, was part of the “Inclusion Ongoing” days that our Group has dedicated to the issues of diversity and inclusion.
“The more diversity we embrace, the greater our chances of survival,” the author told the audience, who were also able to follow the discussion via live subtitles on a large screen and the work of simultaneous sign language interpreters on the stage.
“This is why we wanted to write this book,” continued Murgia. “Not because we are good people but because diversity is good for everyone: it allows us to find solutions we would never have thought of on our own.”
The stories told in Murgia’s book include that of the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn in Naples, a scientific institution and research body that has hosted 19 Nobel Prize-winners in its laboratories, contributing significantly to progress in the biological sciences. “Researching that story was what changed my view of organising creative groups,” Murgia stressed, suggesting the audience reflect on the central role of storytelling: “If no one tells your story, you don’t exist”.