Twenty years after my mother’s death, I came to understand my mother’s alcoholic volatility and abuse not as madness but as products of cultural and psychiatric forces bent on marginalizing women who resist the status quo. In my hybrid biography/memoir/cultural critique—my first non-academic book—I struggle toward truth in writing that is equal parts enraged scream, nature elegy, scholarly dissection, and riff on life’s pervasive uncertainty. Like Tara Westover’s Educated in its sharply drawn portraits of family pain, Madwoman moves outward to connect deep familial knowledge of centuries of women’s oppression to twentieth-century insights to show how one daughter can break entrenched patterns and move toward a healthier life.
The Others (My Italians), my historical fiction book in its infancy, draws from the immigration and life of my paternal family. It is the story of southern Italians, my Italians, who cycled back and forth through Ellis Island in the late nineteenth-century. They came during the wave of peasants escaping the destitution, oppression, and brutality of a nation ruled by and for northerner Italians to find themselves labelled Mafiosi or hooligans or oversexed predators. Not unlike the Irish who arrived before them, became white, and accessed power in the Roman Catholic Church, the police, and politics, these Other Italians came in search of a better present and a happier future for their children. Four generations later, I look back at these people who electrified New York City’s high rises and carved and crafted the stone and woodwork that adorn our churches and homes to show how decades of segregation, separation, and denigration continue to mark Italian Americans as Other despite more than half a century of living in America’s mainstream.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Source: Library of Congress.
Feb. 10, 2022