Goliarda Sapienza

Goliarda Sapienza was born in Catania on the 20th of May 1924. Her mother was Maria Giudice, a well-known socialist, journalist, and antifascist. Her father was Peppino Sapienza, a socialist lawyer known as 'the lawyer of the poor'. Life in the Sapienza-Giudice household was permeated by political activism, so it was mostly her brother Ivanoe who took care of little Goliarda. Her attendance of regular public schools was cut short by her father, who did not agree with the Fascist education philosophy and could not stand seeing his daughter wearing a Fascist uniform to go to school. Freed from regular school routine, the world around her became school. 

Ultimately, in the 1930s, although she was living in one of the least desirable quarters in Catania, and in the backward society of Sicily, Goliarda spent her childhood and first years of adolescence having unique experiences. She learned from artisans how to weave chairs and sew costumes for the marionettes of the traditional Opera de’ Pupi. At the same time she was privately tutored, learned to play the piano, and went frequently to the cinema. Reenacting the plots of films she had seen, playing all the characters in front of families and friends was what she did best and enjoyed. Goliarda's unique education enhanced her natural theatrical skills, which were well recognized by both her family and the people in her neighbourhood. In 1941, at the age of sixteen, Goliarda left for Rome with her mother, to study theatre at the Reale Accademia d’Arte Drammatica (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art). Like most other Italians, Goliarda’s life was heavily affected by the war. Following her family’s political tradition, she became heavily involved with the partigiani’s actions. After the war she returned to theatre and started acting and working in cinema. 

The excitement of acting and working in cinema seemed to fade as Goliarda grew older and, in 1958, writing became her main occupation. During the following years, writing also coincided with facing unresolved issues of her adolescence. She reveals her inner conflicts through the narrative in Lettera aperta (1967) and Il filo di mezzogiorno (1969). For having stolen a friend’s jewels she even spent a few days in the Roman women’s prison Rebibbia, and this unique experience inspired L’università di Rebibbia (1983) and Le certezze del dubbio (1987). Her masterpiece L’arte della gioia was posthumously published in its entirety only in 1998 by Angelo Pellegrino, to whom she was married for the last seventeen years of her life.

Goliarda Sapienza died in Gaeta in August 1996. Other posthumously-published works include Destino coatto (2002), and Io, Jean Gabin (2009).  

Compiled by Maria Teresa Maenza (Creighton University)

Extract from the article by Maria Teresa Maenza 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 20th January 2016.


1967 - Lettera aperta 

1969 - Il filo di mezzogiorno

1983 - L’università di Rebibbia

1987 - Le certezze del dubbio 

1991 - Vengo da lontano in La guerra, il cuore, la parola 

1998 - L’arte della gioia - The Art of Joy, translated by Anne Milano Appel in 2013. 

2002 - Destino coatto

2009 - Io, Jean Gabin

Goliarda Sapienza Goliarda Sapienza