New Directions (later issued as New Directions in Prose and Poetry) is an American literary anthology distributed from 1936 to 2001 by the publishing house New Directions, founded in 1936 by James Laughlin. 55 issues of the magazine came out in total: planned to be published annually, from 1944 ND was issued irregularly, sometimes biannually or biennially. New Directions was conceived as an anthology of avant-garde texts, meant to cause a stirring of change in American literary tradition and reform American tastes in literature. Within this perspective, New Directions overcame national borders and got to include texts from Latin America, Asia and Europe. The choice of publishing innovative writing which did not guarantee an instant success among readers, namely relevant economic profits, reveals the strong cultural ideal that drove Laughlin to create the anthology in the first place.
Gradually the magazine established itself as a valuable instrument for the dissemination of foreign texts in America, considerably contributing to enriching the cultural panorama. Often New Directions printed works that had previously appeared on other magazines, where they had not stirred the interest they deserved, but mostly it offered foreign, never-released texts in English, which included writings by Federico García Lorca, Jorge Luís Borges and Paul Éluard.
The friendship and working relationship between Renato Poggioli and Laughlin played a major role in the promotion of Italian culture through New Directions. The Italian writer and critic was active in the American cultural environment since 1938, as he taught first at Smith College (Massachusetts), later at Middlebury College (Vermont), and from 1939 as Assistant Professor of Italian Literature at Brown University. Laughlin entrusted him with the task of selecting the texts and writing the introduction for the special section “A Little Anthology of Italian Poetry”, published in ND 10 (1948).
There, Poggioli underlined the importance of the transatlantic transfer for both literary scenes. Remarkably, among the sixteen issues of ND distributed between 1948 and 1972, eleven contains at least one Italian piece of writing, with a balance between prose and poetry.
Among the authors recommended by Poggioli, Laughlin considered Elio Vittorini, Roberto Sanesi, Tommaso Landolfi and Mario Luzi particularly worthy of translation. He appreciated Giuseppe Ungaretti, Eugenio Montale, and Cesare Pavese, already known overseas, but he also enjoyed reading less notorious writers, such as the promising Andrea Zanzotto and the young Tommaso Giglio, who had not published a collection of his poetry yet. Giorgio Monicelli equally captured Laughlin’s attention (ND 12): remembered for his contribution to the sci-fi genre in Italy, his literary production is now almost unknown, although he was a translator much valued by Vittorini. Similarly, Niccolò Tucci was nearly a stranger in Italy, but he achieved fame in the States, after moving to New York in 1937 and starting a collaboration with The New Yorker and Partisan Review. After being published by Botteghe Oscure, Tucci had his short story “The Lonely Song” published by ND (1951), together with a letter written in his youth, which Laughlin found an interesting piece of writing per se and as the expression of an unconventional and iconic character. Some poems by Elio Pagliarani, a leading Italian poet and member of the avant-garde Gruppo '63, were also selected and printed in ND 24 (1972), together with an introductory note by Luigi Ballerini.
Important translators, such as William F. Weaver, Maurice English, Vittoria Bradshaw, William Young, Raymond Rosenthal and Norman Thomas di Giovanni collaborated with New Directions to make Italian writings accessible for the American readers. A very young Enrico Pea drew Ezra Pound’s attention; thus, Pound started the translation of the novel Moscardino in 1955, published on ND 15. Interestingly, William Demby, resident in Rome and mainly working as a translator for film productions, translated Tito Guerrini’s “The Maternal Aunt” (ND 11, 1949).
The interest sparked by Italian literature is evinced also by the attention devoted to past artists. In particular, in ND 8 the American critic Leslie Fielder proposes his “Explication du Texte” of Canto XXVI of Dante Alighieri’s Hell, with parallel text in Italian; while issue no. 14 presents “Fable of a Patch of Snow” by Leonardo Da Vinci.
Poet, Writer, Translator
Writer, translator, literary critic
academic, translator, cultural mediator
Della Terza, Dante. "James Laughlin, Renato Poggioli and Elio Vittorini: The Story of a Literary Friendship". In Yearbook of Italian Studies 1972. Antonio D'Andrea e Dante Della Terza, eds.: 111-122. Firenze: Casalini Libri, 1972.
Della Terza, Dante. "James Laughlin, Renato Poggioli and Elio Vittorini: The Story of a Literary Friendship (continued from the 1972 issue of the Yearbook)." In Yearbook of Italian Studies 1973-1975. Antonio D'Andrea e Dante Della Terza, eds.: 183-199. Firenze: Casalini Libri, 1976.
Garboli, Cesare. "Il grande segreto di Tucci." La Repubblica, February 5, 2000.
Healey, Robin. Italian Literature since 1900 in English Translation: An Annotated Bibliography, 1929-2016. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019.
Kellman, Steven G. "How James Laughlin Remade the Canon." The Chronicle Review, November 10, 2014, https://www.chronicle.com/article/how-james-laughlin-remade-the-canon/.
Laughlin, James. "Preface: New Directions." New Directions in Prose and Poetry, issue 1 (1936): 13-18.
MacNiven, Ian S. "Literchoor Is My Beat": A Life of James Laughlin, Publisher of New Directions. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014. Adobe Digital Editions EPUB.
Poggioli, Renato. "Introduction." In "A Little Anthology of Italian Poetry." New Directions in Prose and Poetry, issue 10 (1948): 309-313.
Salvagni, Lorenzo M. "In the Garden of Letters: Marguerite Caetani and the International Literary Review Botteghe Oscure." Doctor of Philosophy dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2013.