Alessandra Lavagnino was born in Naples in 1927, and grew up in Rome where she graduated in Biology. Her postgraduate research was partly carried out in Palermo, where she has lived ever since, teaching at the University, working on the campaign to eradicate malaria, and becoming Associate Professor of Parasitology. Some of her most important writing has appeared in the years since she retired from academic life.
Lavagnino's earliest literary publications were stories in magazines such as Amica and Nuova Antologia. Her first novella, I Lucertoloni, appeared in 1969 after being awarded the Premio Inedito for its unpublished manuscript, and was later translated into English by William Weaver.
Una granita di caffé con panna (1974) may be the first account from a woman's point of view of life in a society dominated by the Mafia. Leonardo Sciascia praised this novella for both exemplifying and bringing to a close the Pirandellian tradition of truth revealed in madness.
In fiction and non-fiction, Lavagnino's favoured vehicle is the short novel or long story, and her most distinctive literary preoccupation is silence. She lyrically dramatises the act of not saying in all its wide variety - from a teenager's debilitating stammer to the divine decree imposed on John the Baptist's father - metaphors of the silence which continues to haunt Italian society.
Lavagnino's non-fiction includes three works dealing with insects and their impact on human beings, told in a form she calls 'divulgazione raccontata', an informal narrative method drawn from her appraoch to teaching.
Her one full-length novel, Le bibliotecarie di Alessandria (2002), was short-listed for the Premio Strega and the Premio Vittorini, and won the New York University's Zerilli-Marimò Award.
In recent years Lavagnino has played a central role in a wider cultural project to record a forgotten part of Italian history. During the Nazi occupation a team of civil servants defied the authorities in order to rescue artworks from the dangers of the Allied invasion and bring them to safety in the Vatican. The operation is commemorated in Un inverno 1943-1944, which draws on accounts left by those who took part in it. Lavagnino herself appears in Paolo Pisanelli's film, Un inverno di guerra, which is based on her book.
Extract from the article by Adam Elgar on the website of The Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women's Writing, Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London. Published here with the author's consent. Original article accessed on 31st August 2015.
1969 - I Lucertoloni - The Lizards, translation by William Weaver in 1972
1974 - Il fantasma nel sole. Un gotico siciliano (serialised in Amica)
1974 - Una granita di caffè con panna - Truth and Flies, translation by Adam Elgar in 2010
1981 - I Daneu. Una famiglia di antiquari
1994 - Zanzare
1997 - Belli di mamma
2002 - Le bibliotecarie di Alessandria - The Librarians of Alexandria, translation by Teresa Lust in 2006.
2004 - La madre dell'ultimo profeta
2005 - Via dei Serpenti (repring of I Lucertoloni)
2006 - Un inverno 1943-1944
2010 - La mala aria. Storia di una lunga malattia narrata in breve
2010 - La nonna volante, e altre storie di paesi, di bambini, e di animali