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Stony Brook Acquires Collection Of Pietro Di Donato, Hailed As Grandfather Of Italian-American Literature

Oct 9, 2007 - 4:36:22 PM

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STONY BROOK, N.Y., October 9, 2007—Stony Brook University announced today that it has acquired the papers of the late Pietro Di Donato, an American writer often referred to as the grandfather of Italian-American literature. The collection is housed in the Special Collections Department of the Melville Library on campus and is available to researchers.

To celebrate the collection, Stony Brook’s Center for Italian Studies and the University Libraries will hold a dedication ceremony on Thursday, November 8 at 4 PM which is open to the public. Speakers at the event include scholars Fred Gardaphe of Stony Brook University and Louise Napolitano of Farmingdale State College, filmmaker Joseph Di Pasquale and Di Donato's sons, Pietro and Richard. The archive includes manuscripts, notebooks, newspaper clippings, books, publications, personal effects, and photographs.

“The acquisition of this collection represents Stony Brook’s dedication to the Italian American community of Long Island,” said Mario Mignone, PH.D., Director of the Center for Italian Studies. “By providing such rich resources for research we guarantee Stony Brook’s position as a leader in the field of American Studies. Di Donato is one of the most important figures of our history and it is exciting to have his papers on our campus.”

Di Donato was born in 1911 in West Hoboken, N.J. Although he had a limited formal education, he reached widespread popularity with his first novel Christ in Concrete (1939). The novel was inspired by the tragic death of Di Donato’s father in a construction accident on Good Friday when Di Donato was 12 years old.
The novel had originally been published as a short story by Esquire magazine but it was soon after expanded into a full novel. It was eventually chosen for the Book of the Month Club, edging out John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, which was published the same year. According to Allen Barra in an interview for Salon.com, the novel became an instant classic and standard reading for second-generation Italian-Americans.

The book was adapted into the 1949 film Give Us This Day. Ben Barzman, who wrote the screenplay, called the novel “the first of its kind,” and The National Italian American Foundation called it “rare.” The film won awards at festivals across Europe, including the 1949 Venice Film Festival, although it was banned from the United States at the time.

In 1942, Di Donato spent time in a Cooperstown, New York camp as a conscientious objector during World War II. During this time he met former showgirl Helen Dean. They married in 1943 and moved to East Setauket, N.Y.

Di Donato’s 1978 work on the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro, President of the Christian Democratic Party of Italy, titled Christ in Plastic, won the Overseas Press Club Award. His later novels did not attain the same level of attention as Christ in Concrete, although his 1960 novel Immigrant Saint: The Life of Mother Cabrini also became a classic.

Di Donato died of bone cancer in 1992 in Stony Brook, N.Y. with his last work unpublished.

For additional information please call 631-632-7444.

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© Stony Brook University 2013

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