Reading from his widely praised All This Talk of Love at the South End library recently, author Chris Castellani describes the aging patriarch of an Italian-American immigrant family thinking about the haunting circumstances of his gay son's death by suicide, decades before. The fourteen-year-old, Tony, had fallen in love with a waiter, Dante, at the family's restaurant. The father found, and read, the teenager's love poems, written on the back of the guest checks used for customers' orders when working there after school. This was the 1960s. The waiter was fired. The son didn't come home from school one day. His body was found in the river shortly after. The patriarch's musings go from despair over prevailing social taboos at the time (.."common sense tells me this can't be"..) to the horror of the AIDS epidemic since (.."when he feels--can he even admit it?--relieved, almost grateful, that Tony died when he did."..) to the guilt he now can express (.."it was his own hand on his son's back that night, pushing him off the bridge"..). Like the bridge itself, Antonio's feelings span the time from those unforgiving days of the 1950s and 60s to this Christmas Eve almost 30 years later, when he is seventy-two. He believes his poem to Tony, if he could have written it, would have read ". .I want you back. Give me another chance.." Antonio even dares to think he "would have made peace with the truth about his son, as his own flesh and blood, the way other fathers have done."
Castellani's trilogy about the three generations of an Italian-American immigrant family takes details from his own experience, growing up in the 1950s in the Little Italy section of Wilmington, Delaware, except for the death of a sibling, he told the attentive audience. Of the three books, it was "the hardest to write, and the closest" to his heart, he added. He had started to write the tale as an epic saga about the Italian-American Grasso family but found that, "at page 400, they were still on the boat." Hence, the trilogy solution. "Why is there such a large cast of characters in this manuscript?" Castellani said he was asked once in a workshop. His answer: "We're Italian." Will he miss the fictional Grasso family he lived with for all those years now that he's completed the three parts, someone else wanted to know? "I'm done with them," Castellani answered firmly.
Castellani, who is the artistic director of Boston's non-profit writing center Grub Street, is currently working on a novel set in Italy in the 1950s/60s, as well as on a book for authors on the literary subject of 'point of view.' His recommended reading at the moment includes three novels due out this year: Wonderland, by Stacey D'Erasmo, coming out in May; After, by Kristin Waterfield Duisberg, to be published this February; and The Man Who Walked Away, by Maude Casey, available in March.
Tuesday, February 25:
Michael Lowenthal, novelist, short-story writer, editor and teacher of creative writing,will read from his most recent The Paternity Test, which describes the voyage of a gay couple trying to save a marriage by having a baby. His previous work includes Charity Girl and The Same Embrace. During Lowenthal’s valedictorian speech at Dartmouth College in 1990, he revealed he was gay, prompting The Dartmouth Review to editorialize that he had ‘ruined the ceremony.’ The New York Times reported he received a standing ovation, however, so all was not lost.
Tuesday, March 18:
Max Grinnel, otherwise known as The Urbanologist. Grinnell’s focal point is the urban condition. He teaches at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and Boston University, where he helps students learn about urbanism, architecture, planning, and related topics.
Tuesday, April 8:
Poet Colin D. Halloran, who served with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan in 2006. A former public school teacher, Colin works with students and teachers to find ways in which poetry can inform the media’s and historians’ portrayals of war. His debut collection of poems, Shortly Thereafter, won the 2012 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award.
Tuesday, April 29:
Anita Shreve, award-winning author of numerous books of fiction, including the international bestseller The Pilot’s Wife. which was made into a movie of the same name and was an Oprah Book Club selection. Her new novel, Stella Bain, has just come out to excellent reviews in the Boston Globe.