Born in 1963 Genoa into a Neapolitan family, Rossana Campo is a prolific novelist and painter, the author of ten novels, a radio drama and a children’s book. Her own literary formation, under the neo-avant-garde poet Edoardo Sanguineti, led her to develop an experimental style that has been linked to that of her dissertation director. It was Gianni Celati who noted the similarities between the two, as he points out in his introduction to her short story 'La storia della Gabri', published in the anthology Narratori delle riserve in 1992. The 500th anniversary of the discovery of the New World marks Campo’s literary debut with a novel, In principio erano le mutande (In the Beginning was the Underwear), set in the historic centre of Genoa. The multicultural environment of the city’s underbelly, with its grunge and picaresque atmosphere, reflects the uncensored theme of her narrative, which, as the title indicates, begins with underwear. The garment that restrains human sexuality and scatology is, in fact, a titillating reference to the protagonist’s sexual initiation. It is in that territory where the sun never shines, be it the 'vicoli' of the Ligurian city or the intimate garment, that Campo sets her first narrative.
The success of In principio erano le mutande prompted Italian director Anna Negri to turn the book into a movie with the same title in 1999, a decision that demonstrates that the novel was not only a best-seller but also a long-seller. After it reached a wide audience, Campo became a controversial literary figure, praised and criticized for her stylistic choices, especially her linguistic and thematic innovations, which mimic contemporary urban idioms and situations. Her over-reliance on colloquialisms, jargon and debased juvenile language define her narratives, which share numerous similarities with the language of the 'Giovani cannibali'. Like many of the young writers who came of age in the early 1990s, she displays a 'brash and provocative narrative' (Lucamante, Italian Pulp, 2001) that centers on female sexuality.
Her own personal experience as the daughter of southern immigrants living in a northern town filter into her second novel, Il pieno di super (Fill It Up with Super, Feltrinelli, 1993), in which the image of the sexual act (to which the title makes sly allusion) guides a narrative that revolves around a group of girls approaching puberty while facing discrimination as 'meridionali'. Frequent dialogue and lack of punctuation create the mimetic effect of eavesdropping on the conversations of a group of female friends at various stages of their lives, young adolescents voicing their sexual curiosity or women discussing their disastrous love relationships, as in the case of her third novel. Mai sentita così bene (Never Felt so Good, 1995) showcases a plurality of female voices centring on sexual escapades against the background of a rainy Paris. Whether set in her native Genoa or in her adopted Paris, Campo’s novels turn to humour as a weapon to help women combat their own victimization.
Expanding her narrative geography in being set in both Paris and New York, L’attore americano (The American Actor, 1997) is the most cinematographic of her novels. Like the previous ones, it allows us to view life through the eyes of a female first-person narrator, in this case a woman who makes us privy to her catastrophic love story with an American actor whom she chased in the Big Apple.
Lesbianism, a theme present in many of her works since In principio, acquires major relevance in her radio drama Il matrimonio di Maria, aired on Radio 3 in 1997 (Maria’s Marriage, published in 1998), and in her detective novel Mentre la mia bella dorme (While my Sweetheart is Asleep, 1999). Probably, the most innovative in theme, Mentre la mia bella dorme tells the story of a pregnant journalist who investigates the mysterious death of her neighbour and occasional partner during a hot Parisian summer.
As Campo’s protagonists grow up, female solidarity becomes less pronounced and her novels acquire darker tones. The shattering consequences of love are still at the centre of her narrative, as the titles of her book indicate: Sono pazza di te (I’m Crazy about You, 2001), L’uomo che non ho sposato (The Man I didn’t Marry, 2003) and Duro come l’amore (Tough as Love, 2005) all centre on love and eroticism. To confirm the relational aspect of women’s condition, Campo returns obsessively to the effects of sexual traumas, as in her last novel, Lezioni di arabo (Arabian Lessons, 2010). Although political themes such as multiculturalism, racism and migration are crucial in her oeuvre, nonetheless it is the sexual aspect of human existence that interests Campo the most. Love and its discontents are still the key thematic issue explored through a plurality of characters in a postmodern, post-feminist fashion.
Compiled by Marina Bettaglio (University of Victoria, CA)
In principio erano le mutande (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1992)
Il pieno di super (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1993)
Mai sentita così bene (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1995)
L’attore americano (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1997)
Il matrimonio di Maria (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1998)
Mentre la mia bella dorme (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1999)
Sono pazza di te (Milano: Feltrinelli, 2001)
L’uomo che non ho sposato (Milano: Feltrinelli, 2003)
Duro come l’amore (Milano: Feltrinelli, 2005)
Più forte di me (Milano: Feltrinelli, 2007)
Lezioni di arabo (Milano: Feltrinelli, 2010)
La gemella buona e la gemella cattiva (Milano: Feltrinelli, 2000)
Compiled by Marina Bettaglio (University of Victoria, CA)Criticism
Articles and Book Chapters:
Arriaga Florez, Mercedes, ‘Cultura postmoderna y narrativa italiana: Nunca me he sentido tan bien de Rossana Campo’ (Garoza: Sociedad Española de Estudios Literarios de Cultura Popular, 2003, n. 3, pp. 27-39)
Berisso, Marco, ‘Linguistic Levels and Stylistic Solutions in the New Italian Narrative (1991-98)’ in Stefania Lucamante (ed), Italian Pulp Fiction. The Narrative of the Giovani Cannibali Writers (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2000, pp. 76-97)
Bernardi, Claudia. ‘Recalcitrant Daughters: The Search for Literary Mothers in Italian Women’s Fiction of the 1990s’ in Adalgisa Giorgio and Julia Waters (eds), Women's Writing in Western Europe: Gender, Generation and Legacy. Newcastle upon Tyne, England (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007, pp. 69-84)
Contarini, Silvia, ‘L’eredità della neoavanguardia nei romanzi di Silvia Ballestra, Rossana Campo, Carmen Covito’ (Narrativa, 1995, n. 8, pp. 75-99)
Contarini, Silvia, ‘Riflessioni sulla narrativa femminile degli anni ’90’ (Narrativa, 1996, n. 10, pp. 139-63)
Di Ciolla McGowan, Nicoletta, ‘Giovani pulp crescono: Il percorso della narrativa italiana degli anni Novanta nell’opera di Rossana Campo’ (Narrativa, 1999, n. 16, pp. 167-81)
Ferme, Valerio, ‘Gay, Feminist, and Arbëresh: Marginal Italian Identities in the Fiction of Rossana Campo, and Carmine Abate’, Annali d’Italianistica, 2006, 24, pp. 133-58)
Gahl, Peter, ‘Identità femminile e generazionale in In principio erano le mutande di Rossana Campo’ in Alain Sarrabayrouse and Christophe Mileschi (eds), Images littéraires de la société contemporaine (Grenoble: Université Stendhal, 2008, pp. 137-148)
Litherland, Kate, ‘Rossana Campo: Un-learning the Rules of Writing’ (The Italianist, 2004, 24 (1), pp. 126-34)
Litherland, Kate, ‘Translating 'America' in 90s Italian Fiction’ in Ashley Chantler and Carla Dente (eds), Manfred Pfister (introd.) Translation Practices: Through Language to Culture (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009, pp. 115-28)
Pagano, Tullio, ‘Per una lettura diasporica della narrativa di Rossana Campo’ (Italica, 2007, 84, (2-3), pp. 274-289)
Lucamante, Stefania, ‘Per uno sguardo diverso: Cinema, Santa Cecilia e Micky Rourke nell’Attore americano’ (Narrativa, 2001 June; 20-2, pp. 19-34)
Lucamante, Stefania, ‘Introduction. Pulp, Splatter, and More: The New Italian Narrative of Giovani Cannibali writers’, in Stefania Lucamante (ed.), Italian Pulp Fiction. The Narrative of the Giovani Cannibali Writers (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2001, pp.13-37)
Viazmenski, Julia, ‘Cinema as Negotiation in Rossana Campo’s L’attore americano’ (Italica, 2001, 78 (2), pp. 203-20)
Compiled by Marina Bettaglio (University of Victoria, CA)