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Photo by Elizabeth Lutz Pauntz

In March 2020, Mother Tongue, An American Life in Italy, describing WWM's  early years living in Parma, will be published in a new edition by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In the two decades since it first appeared, it has become "an underground classic."  Newly framed by Patricia Hampl's introduction and a foreword by the author, it speaks clearly to the complexity of identity, ever more apparent in today's world. Part memoir, part cultural meditation,  Hampl writes of Mother Tongue,: "I've been in conversation with this book for many years....(WWM's) relentless attention requires radical honesty, a form of inventive humility.  That's what you get from this writer. No wonder I couldn't put the book down."

 

 Recently I have worked with Nigerian woman in Parma while they waited for their papers. The book, with its new context, can be read in this way as a broader narration about cultural roots, writing and language. Tim Parks observes: Mother Tongue is a sustained and generous meditation on difference, the discovery of oneself and one's own culture through the urgent need to come to terms with another. Few writers have savored Italy so intimately and intelligently...". Frances Mayes, whose books on Italy have led so many readers to travel to Italy, wrote in her latest work, "I read further into (WWM's) book about living in Parma, realizing at every page that her roots show how a visitor like me only treads the surface of the place." 

 

 In 2020, Parma, an elegant and prosperous city in northern Itlay, will become the capitol of culture for the year. The home of Correggio and Parmigianino, Giuseppe Verdi, the conductor Arturo Toscannini, the film maker Bernardo Bertolucci, as well as Parmesan cheese and prosciutto, I hope that Mother Tongue will stimulate readers to learn more about this rewarding and vital city and to discover what it feels like to find equivalencies in very different cultures.

 



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Book readings are interesting moments of exchange. Since many of mine take place in Italy, Italian is usually the language used. This one for The Other Side of the Tiber took place in a bookstore in Parma, La Feltrinelli. It has always been a cultural hub for authors. I have presented my books in Italy in Rome, Florence, Milan, Bologna, Verona. But I read more often in English speaking universities and bookstores: Geneva, London, Paris and in the U.S. in New York, Washington, Chicago, Huston, Dallas, Austin, Milwaukee. I will post the dates for my new readings once I have them in place.

In Parma, I have presented all of my books, as well as the eight volumes of New Grains brought out from classes I taught in creative writing. Parma is not the subject of all of my work. My novel is set in Florence, Tiber is set primarily in Rome. My book Silence and Silences (FSG, to be published in 2021) lifts off on wings not tied by culture. But Parma has influenced my thinking.

 

Parma is famous for its tiny and fragile violets. With breathtaking wit, they pry open the weary winter landscape and fill the fields with gashes of indigo color and sweet perfume. Their soft purple carpets worked their way into Stendahl's novel set in an invented Parma. They also whisper in mine.