Giuseppe Prezzolini’s several activities span many decades and connect Europe with the United States. In his twenties, as founder and director of the journal La Voce, he was a leading figure in the cultural debate of Italy. Later, Prezzolini worked for the Paris-based International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation before moving to the United States, where he became director and professor at the Casa Italiana of Columbia University. He was also a journalist for Italian and US-American newspapers. Prezzolini was a living hub of multidisciplinary and cosmopolitan culture, a bridge between the cultural and publishing systems of two continents, and a coordinator of cultural activities.
Since he relocated in New York in 1930, Prezzolini devoted himself to his new role as an academic. He coordinated the work of students towards ambitious goals: an annotated bibliography of Italian literature of the twentieth century and a dictionary of modern European literature. He worked diligently to collect and provide information on Italian culture and literature in the form of catalogs, courses, and conferences, so that publishers, journalists, booksellers, and readers in the United States could gather information on Italian writers and books more easily. He also collaborated with Andrea Ragusa (the owner of the publisher S. F. Vanni) to publish three series of books linked to the activities of the Casa Italiana. He taught as a professor until his retirement in 1950. His latest courses were dedicated to Italian culture as a whole and Italian contributions to European culture, and were condensed in the book The Legacy of Italy (Vanni, 1948), which would later be translated in Italian, French, Spanish, and German.
During the second half of the 1940s Prezzolini increased his activity as a journalist for Italian newspapers (the dailies Il Tempo and Il Resto del Carlino, as well as Longanesi’s weekly journal Il Borghese), while also publishing in myriad Italian, American, and foreign journals, at times publishing more than twenty articles each month. His columns covered life and culture in the United States, about which Italian readers were keen to learn, as well as international politics, economics, science, and new books. Most of the volumes he subsequently published were collections of journal articles, sorted by theme and often reworked. His titles on contemporary America and his memoirs are among the most interesting books he published in these years: America in pantofole [America in Slippers] (1950), L'italiano inutile [The Useless Italian] (1953), and America con gli stivali [America in Boots] (1954).
In 1955 Prezzolini was invited to Italy to hold conferences on the cultural match between Italy and the United States. After sixteen years of absence he was finally able to visit what remained of his family and friends, and to meet the publishers and intellectuals with whom he was collaborating. The books he published in the meantime are almost extravagant in their diversity: Machiavelli anticristo [Machiavelli the Antichrist] (1954), one of his many works on Machiavelli’s philosophy; Spaghetti Dinner (1955), a book on the history of pasta; and Saper leggere [How to Read] (1956), a guide for general readers, which would become a long seller.
In 1962 Prezzolini remarried with Gioconda Savini, an Italian-American who had been his collaborator and companion for a long time. The two moved first to Vietri sul Mare in Italy, near Naples, and then, in 1968, to Lugano, in the Italian-speaking area of Switzerland. Although now from a different geographical position, the Prezzolinis kept connecting Italy to the United States, recommending Italian books for translation to the US-American publishers they were connected to.
The Italian Scene
Bulletin of Cultural Information
Uguccione Ranieri di Sorbello
Journalist, diplomat, and writer
Italian Academy - Columbia University, New York
Writer, translator, literary critic
Writer, journalist, playwright, poet
Bookseller and publisher
Alberto Denti di Pirajno
Medical doctor, colonial officer, writer, gastronome
Faedda, Barbara. From Da Ponte to the Casa Italiana. A Brief History of Italian Studies at Columbia University. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017.
Gentile, Emilio. “Giuseppe Prezzolini.” In Dizionario biografico degli italiani. Roma: Istituto della Encicliopedia italiana, 1960- [http://www.treccani.it/biografico/index.html].
Pellizzato, Giulia. “Studiare le carte dell'Archivio Prezzolini: ipotesi di lavoro e casi di studio.” Versants. Revista suiza de literaturas románicas 2, no. 66 (2019): 44–58.
Pellizzato, Giulia. Prezzolini e Parise: un'amicizia transoceanica. Edizione critica e commentata del carteggio (1951-1976). Firenze: Leo S. Olschki, 2021.
Prezzolini, Giuseppe. The American Years 1929-1962. Edited by Silvia Betocchi. New York / Firenze: S. F. Vanni – Gabinetto G. P. Vieusseux, 1994.
Ragusa, Olga. “Giuseppe Prezzolini professore universitario a New York.” In Giuseppe Prezzolini testimone della sua epoca (1882-1982). Roma: Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana Treccani, 1992.
Ragusa, Olga. Gli anni americani di Giuseppe Prezzolini: il Dipartimento d'italiano e la Casa Italiana della Columbia University. Firenze: Le Monnier, 2001.