The Penguin Book of Italian American Writing

Edited by Gina Barreca

This important collection (named a “2002 Best Book” by NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan) reveals as never before the quality, extent, and variety of the Italian American contribution to American literature. Bringing together fiction and poetry as well as academic essays and newspaper articles from the 1800s to the present, this volume celebrates and explores the complex relationship between ethnicity and culture. Including many previously unpublished pieces as well as classic works, this definitive collection does not attempt to homogenize the diversity of Italian American culture, but to honor it. With her usual wit and aplomb, editor Gina Barreca offers a taste of a rich literary heritage–and provides fresh insight into the construction of every American’s sense of identity.


“Barreca, author of A Sitdown with the Sopranos and They Used to Call Me Snow White… but I Drifted, selected and edited these essays by more than 90 influential Italian-American writers. This is an introduction not just to great Italian-American writing but to great literature.” — Publishers Weekly

“Spanning Italian American writing by 90 authors since 1800, this anthology consists of essays, poems, and fiction and nonfiction excerpts. The authors included range from the well-known (e.g., David Baldacci, Don DeLillo, Evan Hunter, Ray Romano) to those many readers will be unfamiliar with, including a fair number of academics. Although most of the pieces are reprints, several authors have contributed original pieces; most notable are Wally Lamb’s “Food and Fatalism” and Josephine Hendin’s “Who Will You Marry Now?” Editor Barreca’s (They Used To Call Me Snow White, But I Drifted) introduction and her brother’s counter introduction are informative and personal…There are not many books of similar scope…” —Library Journal

“This anthology gives heartwarming, humorous insight into what really goes on around the kitchen tables in Italian American homes. Everybody Loves Raymond’s Ray Romano, The Tonight Show’s Jay Leno, and She’s Come Undone author Wally Lamb are among nearly 100 people who bring to life their families and experiences in this delightful collection. Topics range from stereotypical dramatic Italian mothers to common rites of passage done up Italian style–this means lots of relatives, loud music, and massive amounts of food. Romano writes about the Italian wedding, informing readers that the Chicken Dance, Hokey Pokey, and conga lines are things an attendee can’t escape or talk his way out of. “You’re in. It’s over,” he writes. “You better have a strong bladder, because you’re going to be cha-cha-ing until the song is done.” We can all relate to that. Shedding new light on social and political lives of Italian Americans, these short pieces show us in a funny way that there is more to being Italian than pasta, booming voices, and Tony Soprano.” —Booklist

Don't Tell Mama

Publication Information

Paperback: 545 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: September 1, 2002
ISBN-13: 978-0142002476