Italian Signs, American Streets

The Evolution of Italian American Narrative

Italian Signs, American Streets

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: Published: March 1996

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

In the first major critical reading of Italian American narrative literature in two decades, Fred L. Gardaphé presents an interpretive overview of Italian American literary history. Examining works from the turn of the twentieth century to the present, he develops a new perspective—variously historical, philosophical, and cultural—by which American writers of Italian descent can be read, increasing the discursive power of an ethnic literature that has received too little serious critical attention.
Gardaphé draws on Vico’s concept of history, as well as the work of Gramsci, to establish a culture-specific approach to reading Italian American literature. He begins his historical reading with narratives informed by oral traditions, primarily autobiography and autobiographical fiction written by immigrants. From these earliest social–realist narratives, Gardaphé traces the evolution of this literature through tales of “the godfather” and the mafia; the “reinvention of ethnicity” in works by Helen Barolini, Tina DeRosa, and Carole Maso; the move beyond ethnicity in fiction by Don DeLillo and Gilbert Sorrentino; to the short fiction of Mary Caponegro, which points to a new direction in Italian American writing.
The result is both an ethnography of Italian American narrative and a model for reading the signs that mark the “self-fashioning” inherent in literary and cultural production. Italian Signs, American Streets promises to become a landmark in the understanding of literature and culture produced by Italian Americans. It will be of interest not only to students, critics, and scholars of this ethnic experience, but also to those concerned with American literature in general and the place of immigrant and ethnic literatures within that wide framework.


Italian Signs, American Streets is nothing short of a landmark in Italian/American literary studies. Lively, elegant, readable, and engaging, Italian Signs is the first major work in nearly one-quarter century to posit a theory for reading Italian/American literary works and organizing them within their own ethnic/American canon.” — Steven J. Belluscio , MELUS

Italian Signs, American Streets is a milestone in both ethnic studies and Italian American writing. . . . Theoretically sophisticated in its overview of major approaches to ethnic literature and filled with elegant, original formulations, it is a landmark work that will prove seminal for anyone working in contemporary American literature. — Josephine Hendin, Modern Fiction Studies

Italian Signs, American Streets takes enormous strides forward in formulating a dynamic vision of literary ethnicity . . . . Situating lively readings of major texts in both a historical and literary context, [Gardaphé] achieves an ethnography of Italian American narrative that is essential reading. His approach provides a model for representing ethnic self-fashioning as a dynamic individual, social, and literary process.” — Josephine Gattuso Hendin , American Literary History

“This study not only maps the field . . . it does a superb job in situating Italian American writing within its own historic complexities of remembered transition and place.” — A. Robert Lee , Immigrants & Minorities

“Bursting with energy and insights. Fred Gardaphé has added a powerful and original chapter to the literary history of modern America.” — Frank Lentricchia


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Fred L. Gardaphé is Professor of English at Columbia College, Chicago. He is the editor of Italian American Ways and author of Dagoes Read: Tradition and the Italian American Writer.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

1. Narrative in the Poetic Mode 24

2. The Early Mythic Mode: From Autobiography to Autobiographical Fiction 55

3. The Middle Mythic Mode: Godfathers as Heroes, Variations on a Figure 86

4. The Later Mythic Mode: Reinventing Ethnicity through the Grandmother Figure 119

5. Narrative in the Philosophical Mode 153

Epilogue 193

Notes 201

Works Cited 221

Index 235
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1739-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1730-2
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