Jerre Mangione

Pietro di Donato
Pietro Di Donato, John Fante, and Jerre Mangione - the autobiography, vehicle for Italian American novelists.

Three of the most celebrated Italian American novelists of the mid-20th century, who drew heavily on their autobiographies, were Pietro di Donato, John Fante and Jerre Mangione. Born in 1911 in West Hoboken, New Jersey, to parents born in Abruzzi, Italy, Pietro di Donato (1911-1992) achieved unexpected success in the realm of American literature. A self-taught son of immigrants with limited formal education, he burst upon the scene with his first work of literature, Christ in Concrete. It was something rare, a proletarian novel written by a proletarian. He also became a construction worker who retained his union card for the rest of his life. Literary critics cite the impact of di Donato's novel, Christ in Concrete published in 1939 as extraordinary feat, a work that was "uncompromisingly revolutionary" in the words of Frank Rosengarten. It combined the autobiographical events of private life with superb recreations of the world of New York Italian American construction workers and their families during the 1920s. Readers are introduced to a group of strong, lusty, rugged men, who are loyal to each other, to their women, and to their perspectives of life. It is an instructive display of worker exploitation that in the words of writer Helen Barolini, "fit the social protest sympathies of the period …an autobiographical rendering of the most haunting, ineluctable event of di Donato's life -the tragic accident that killed his father on a construction job…" Originally Christ in Concrete began as a short story published in Esquire, but then expanded into a full novel format. It was the first work to stir the American reading public about Italian American experience and was chosen as a "Book-of-the-Month Club" selection, edging out John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. It was also made into a Hollywood film called "Unto This Day." Although di Donato continued to write, he could never equal the heights of his early work. Much of his later writing reflected inner conflicts and uncertainty.

John Fante (1909-1983) was born in Denver, Colorado in 1909. His father emigrated from Abruzzi, and his Chicago-born mother was also of Italian background. John, who attended Catholic primary, secondary schools, Regis College, the University of Colorado and Long Beach Junior College, settled in Los Angeles and eventually became a writer publishing stories in various magazines such as American Mercury, Atlantic Monthly, Saturday Evening Post, Harper's Bazaar, and Collier's. He also wrote movie scripts. Among his most important novels were Wait Until Spring Bandini (1938) and The Wine of Youth (1985). The first is autobiographical, reflecting the life of an adolescent in an Italian American family in Colorado, while the latter is a collection of short stories dealing with events in the life of his family. Using simple, uncomplicated language, Fante was able to connect with the range of emotions of his readers.

Writer Jerre Mangione (1909-1998) was a product of Rochester, New York's "Little Sicily." Born in 1909 of Sicilian immigrant parents, Mangione attended local schools, Syracuse University and also spent time visiting Italy. From his youth he loved writing and in due course wrote articles for New Republic, Harper's Bazaar, and London Spectator. The first, and in most respects his signature book was Mount Allegro, a rarity in that it has remained in print most of the years since it was published in 1943. Written essentially in a novel format it is an affectionate autobiographical account of growing up amidst a Sicilian family in America that attempts to replicate the old culture in a new setting. While much is retained, a great deal must give way -a reality reflected in his own life as he tries to bridge the gap between the two cultures even as he separated himself from the Sicilian home and hearth. Louis Adamic described it as "folk-lore, sociology, portraiture, and drama, all rolled into one." Mangione wrote a number of other works, many of them non-fiction including An Ethnic At Large, that recounts his role as an Italian American intellectual during the New Deal era and La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian American Experience, an impressive and unprecedented social history of Italian Americans.

Jerre Mangione
John Fante

View Previous Entry     View Next Entry       Back to Timeline