Silvia Ballestra

Biography

Silvia Ballestra

Silvia Ballestra was born in Porto San Giorgio, Ascoli Piceno (Marche) in 1969. She graduated in Modern Languages and Literatures from the University of Bologna and currently lives and works in Milan. The Abruzzi and Marche regions, Bologna and Milan play an important role in her fiction, where characters are often described as they move from the Italian province to bigger cities and back, always followed by a deep-seated sense of displacement.

Ballestra’s first short story was published in 1990 in the Papergang (Under 25 III) anthology edited by Pier Vittorio Tondelli, who played the role of mentor and became an important literary model for many other writers of Ballestra’s generation. Since then she has written novels, short stories, biographies, children’s fiction, essays and articles, and has translated books from English and French into Italian. Some of her works have been translated into French and German.

Her first book was the best-seller Compleanno dell'iguana (1991), which achieved cult status among the generation of Italians who came of age in the early 1990s, as did the protagonist of the short story ‘La via per Berlino’ included in that volume, Antò Lo Purk. Antò is a young man from Pescara who attempts to escape the frustrating life of the Abruzzi province first as an unsuccessful university student in Bologna, then as an expatriate in Amsterdam and Berlin, only to discover that he is still unable to overcome his own cultural limitations. Antò’s and his homonymous friends’ misadventures continue in La guerra degli Antò (1992), a satire of student life in Bologna in the early 1990s and of contemporary youth’s political ineffectiveness against the background of the First Gulf War as it plays out in the media. The tragi-comedy of the Antòs was published again as a combined text in Il disastro degli Antò (1997), and became the basis of the film La guerra degli Antò, written and directed by Riccardo Milani (1999).

Ballestra’s early narrative brought her to the attention of the intellectuals of the Italian neo-avant-garde, in particular Renato Barilli and Nanni Balestrini, who invited her to the first Ricercare meeting. Held in Reggio Emilia in 1993 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 1960s’ avant-garde movement Gruppo 63, this event and the ones that followed on a yearly basis until 2004 had, among others, the purpose of promoting the emerging authors of the so-called ‘pulp generation’. Ballestra’s work was praised for its linguistic experimentation, particularly evident in her use of youth language and jargon and in the adoption of postmodern references to contemporary popular culture, as well as her innovative formal strategies. While she parodied the 1993 meeting and its protagonists in the short story ‘Gli orsi (63-93)’, published  in her third book, Gli orsi (1994), Ballestra’s links with the neo-avant-garde and the annual Ricercare events remained constant in later years, when she played the role of co-organizer and presenter.

Her biography-conversation with fellow Marche writer and activist Joyce Lussu, Joyce L. Una vita contro: diciannove registrazioni su nastro (1996), marked an important change of direction in Ballestra’s work, with the identification of a female literary model and explicit political engagement as guidelines for her subsequent narrative production. Her new focus on women’s lives and stories came to fruition in the so-called ‘Nina’s trilogy’ (La giovinezza della signorina N.N., 1998; Nina, 2001; Il compagno di mezzanotte, 2002), three novels connected by recurring characters, places and female protagonists described as they enter adulthood: the emphasis is on first heterosexual love, female friendship and pregnancy/new motherhood, all presented as both private and public experiences, with significant political reverberations. An ideal continuation of this trilogy of female experience is the more recent Amiche mie (2014), a polyphonic novel that chronicles the disillusionment of marriage, motherhood, precarious work and adult life in general from the perspective of four women who find in their friendship the main support for their negotiation of public and private commitments.

While in ‘Nina’s trilogy’ Ballestra deliberately adopts more traditional narrative structures, in Tutto su mia nonna (2005), the first of her novels published by Einaudi in their series ‘Stile libero’, she returns to the more experimental forms of her earlier fiction; this time, however, she tells the story of three generations of women (narrator, mother and grandmother) who devise their own language, inflected with regional dialect and ironic ‘family sayings’, to communicate with each other and share their experiences from a female perspective. In contrast, the historical novel La seconda Dora (2006) is told in a simple, if lyrical, realist mode, to convey as directly as possible the story of Jewish Dora during the Fascist persecution, the war, and her quietly remarkable life as a school teacher in the post-war years. A balance between obvious experimentation and more mainstream forms of narration is carefully negotiated in each of these texts, strictly linked to the political impact Ballestra wishes to achieve. This strategy reappears in I giorni della Rotonda (2009), a fiction that weaves together the memory of 1970s’ Leftist terrorism, the fall-out of political disenchantment and the subsequent heroin addiction of a significant part of that generation, contrasted with the quiet resistance to the conservative backlash of many who, like Ballestra herself, grew up in the 1980s in provincial Italy.

Political commentary – present since her early works, as in the references to the rise to power of Silvio Berlusconi in the early 1990s, expressed as a parody of horror and science fiction genres in Gli orsi – becomes increasingly prominent in Ballestra’s mature production. Her belief in the public role of the intellectual inspires her to write two non-fiction works that discuss, respectively, the misogynistic backlash against women in Italian society, institutions and the media (Contro le donne nei secoli dei secoli, 2006), and the need to uphold, as well as to understand better its social costs, the Law 194 that guarantees women’s reproductive rights, including the right to have an abortion (Piove sul nostro amore. Una storia di donne, medici, aborti, predicatori e apprendisti stregoni, 2008). In the same vein, she contributed in the role of screenplay supervisor to the making of Alina Marazzi’s film Vogliamo anche le rose (2007), a documentary on women’s lives and the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Ballestra’s essays for the literary journal Alfabeta2 (2010) and her bi-weekly articles for the left-wing newspaper L’Unità (2011) often reminded her readers about the pervasiveness of gender inequality, whether in reference to current news or as a comment on the scanty attention paid to women’s contribution to the Italian literary world. To counter the resistance of Italian intellectuals to acknowledge women writers, Ballestra recently published her first book for children, Christine e la città delle dame (2015), with illustrations by Rita Petruccioli, based on the life of 15th-century Italian-French writer Christine de Pizan: taking on the legacy of Pizan’s own work on the long tradition of women’s culture, Ballestra offers younger readers an alternative female literary model to the male-centric Italian canon.

Bibliography

Short Stories

Compleanno dell’iguana (Ancona: Transeuropa/Milan: Mondadori, 1991)

Gli orsi (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1994)

Romanzi e racconti (Rome: Theoria, 1999)

Senza gli orsi [with illustrations by Alberto Rebori] (Milan: Rizzoli, 2003)

Novels

La guerra degli Antò (Ancona: Transeuropa/Milan: Mondadori, 1992/ Turin: Einaudi, 2005)

Il disastro degli Antò [‘Compleanno dell’iguana’ (1991) and La guerra degli Antò (1992)] (Milan: Baldini & Castoldi, 1997)

La giovinezza della signorina N.N. Una storia d’amore (Milan: Baldini & Castoldi, 1998)

Romanzi e racconti (Rome: Theoria, 1999)

Nina (Milan: Rizzoli, 2001)

Il compagno di mezzanotte (Milan: Rizzoli, 2002)

Tutto su mia nonna (Turin: Einaudi, 2005)

La seconda Dora (Milan: Rizzoli, 2006)

I giorni della Rotonda (Milan: Rizzoli, 2009)

Amiche mie (Milan: Mondadori, 2014)

Children’s Literature

Christine e la città delle dame [with illustrations by Rita Petruccioli] (Rome/Bari: Laterza, 2015)

Biographies

Joyce L. Una vita contro: diciannove conversazioni incise su nastro [interview/biography of Joyce Lussu] (Milan: Baldini & Castoldi, 1996/Milan: Dalai Editore, 2012)

‘Su Nazim: conversazione con Joyce Lussu’ in Joyce Lussu, Il Turco in italia (ovvero l’Italiana in Turchia) (Ancona: Transeuropa, 1998)

Le colline di fronte. Un viaggio interno alla vita di Tullio Pericoli (Milan: Rizzoli, 2011)

Essays

‘Intrappolato in questo rock’ (Panta, 9, 1992, pp. 329-335)

Contro le donne nei secoli dei secoli (Milan: Il Saggiatore, 2006)

Piove sul nostro amore. Una storia di donne, medici, aborti, predicatori e apprendisti stregoni (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2008)

‘L’industria del libro di massa’ (Alfabeta2, 1, July-August 2010) available online at https://www.alfabeta2.it/2010/07/06/l%e2%80%99industria-del-libro-di-massa/

‘Sporcarsi le mani’ (Alfabeta2, 2, September 2010) available online at https://www.alfabeta2.it/2010/09/22/sporcarsi-le-mani/

‘Eppure’ (Alfabeta2, 5, December 2010) available online at https://www.alfabeta2.it/2010/12/16/editoriale-n%c2%b0-5/

Anthologies

Coda. Undici ‘under 25’ nati dopo il 1970 [co-edited with Giulio Mozzi; anthology of short stories by new Italian writers] (Ancona: Transeuropa, 1996)

Translations by Silvia Ballestra

Gavalda, Anna: Vorrei che da qualche parte ci fosse qualcuno ad aspettarmi [Ballestra also authored the introduction] (Milan: Frassinelli, 2001)

─:  Io l’amavo (Milan: Frassinelli, 2003)

Keenan, Joe, Oggi sposi (Milan: Zelig, 1998)

Kerouac, Jack, Scrivere Bop. Lezioni di scrittura creativa (Milan: Mondadori, 1996)

Pahn, Rithy [with Christophe Bataille], L’eliminazione (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2014)

Prévost, Antoine Françoise, Manon Lescaut (Turin: Einaudi, 1998)

Translations into French of Ballestra’s Work

La Route de Berlin [Translation of ‘La via di Berlino’ by Nicole Sels] (Paris: Édition du Seuil, 1993)

Les Ours [Translation of Gli orsi by Jean-Paul Manganaro and Danielle Dubroca] (Paris: Édition du Seuil, 2002)

La jeunesse de mademoiselle X: Une histoire d’amour [Translation of La giovinezza della signorina N.N. Una storia d’amore by Nathalie Bauer] (Paris: Édition du Seuil, 2002)

Nina [Translation of Nina by Nathalie Bauer] (Paris: Édition du Seuil, 2003)

Translations into German of Ballestra’s Work

Der Weg nach Berlin [Translation of ‘La via di Berlino’ by Peter Klöss] (Munich: Piper Verlag, 1994) 

Filmography

La guerra  degli Antò [written and directed by Riccardo Milani (1999), based on Ballestra’s  books Compleanno dell’iguana (1991) and La guerra degli Antò (1992)]

Vogliamo anche le rose [written and directed by Alina Marazzi (2007), Ballestra participated as screenplay supervisor]

Criticism

Arcangeli, Massimo: Giovani scrittori, scritture giovani: ribelli, sognatori, cannibali, bad girls (Rome: Carocci, 2007)

Balestrini, Nanni and Renato Barilli [eds.]: La bestia 1. Narrative invaders! (Rome: Costa & Nolan, 1997)

Balestrini, Nanni, Renato Barilli, Ivano Burani and Giuseppe Caliceti: Narrative invaders. Narratori di ‘Ricercare’ 1993-1999 (Turin: Testo & Immagine, 2000)

Barilli, Renato: È arrivata la terza ondata. Dalla neo-avanguardia alla neo-neo-avanguardia (Turin: Testo & Immagine, 2000)

Bernardi, Claudia: ‘Exiles/Nomads: Journeys through Language and Gender in Italian Women’s Pulp Fiction of the 1990s’ (Italian Studies in Southern Africa/Studi d’Italianistica nell’Africa Australe, 16.1, 2003, pp. 41-64)

─: ‘Collective Memory and Childhood Narratives: Re-writing the 1970s in the 1990s’ in Speaking Out and Silencing. Culture, Society and Politics in Italy in the 1970s ed. by Anna Bull and Adalgisa Giorgio (Leeds: MHRA Legenda, 2006, pp. 185-200)

─: ‘Recalcitrant Daughters: the Search for Literary Mothers in Italian Women’s Fiction of the 1990s’ in Women’s Writing in Western Europe: Gender, Generation and Legacy ed. by Adalgisa Giorgio and Julia Waters (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007, pp. 69-84)

─: ‘Impegno in the Work of Silvia Ballestra: A Space of Political Engagement between Realism and Postmodernism’ (Studi d’Italianistica nell’Africa Australe/Italian Studies in Southern Africa, 24.1, 2011, pp. 151-176)

─: ‘Narratrici italiane tra tradizioni ed avanguardie’ (Nuova prosa, 64.1, 2014, pp. 41-75)

Burns, Jennifer: Fragments of Impegno: Interpretations of Commitment in Contemporary Italian Narrative, 1980-2000 (Leeds: Northern Universities Press, 2001)

Contarini, Silvia: ‘L’eredità della neoavanguardia nei romanzi di Silvia Ballestra, Rossana Campo e Carmen Covito’ (Narrativa, 8, 1995, pp. 75-99)

Janusz, Joanna: ‘Mondo di donne, mondo di parole. Espressione linguistica della condizione femminile in Tutto su mia nonna di Silvia Ballestra’ (Romanica Silesiana, 8.2, 2013, pp. 59-67)

La Porta, Filippo: La nuova narrativa italiana. Travestimenti e stili di fine secolo (Milan: Bollati Boringhieri, 2003)

Litherland, Kate: ‘Translating ‘America’ in 90s’ Italian Fiction’ in Translation Practices: Through Language to Culture ed. by Ashley Chantler, Carla Dente and Manfred Pfister (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009, pp. 115-128)

Lucamante, Stefania [ed.]: Italian Pulp Fiction: The New Narrative of the Giovani Cannibali Writers (Madison, Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001)

Manai, Franco: ‘Guerra in trincea e in televisione nei romanzi di Emilio Lussu e Silvia Ballestra” (Cahiers d’ètudes italiennes, 3, 2005,  pp. 29-55)

─: ‘La narrativa regionale italiana e la politica subalterna della sinistra’ (Textes & Contextes, 2, 2008 also online at http://revuesshs.u-bourgogne.fr/textes&contextes/)

Mondello, Elisabetta [ed.]: La narrativa italiana degli anni novanta (Rome: Meltemi, 2004)

─: In principio fu Tondelli. Letteratura, merci, televisione nella narrativa degli anni Novanta (Milan: Il Saggiatore, 2007)          

Ottonieri, Tommaso: ‘La lettera, il fuoco: Saggio su Silvia Ballestra’ (Verri: Rivista di Letteratura, 3-4, 1995, pp. 113-132)

Sinibaldi, Marino: Pulp. La narrativa nell’era della simultaneità (Rome: Donzelli, 1997)

Tondelli, Pier Vittorio: ‘Commento ai testi. Silvia Ballestra’ in Pier Vittorio Tondelli, Opere. Cronache, saggi, conversazioni ed. by Fulvio Panzeri (Milan: Bompiani, 2001, pp. 765-766)

Vittori, Maria Vittoria: ‘Le soglie del tempo. Passaggi e crocevia delle età nel racconto delle donne’ (Storia delle donne, 2.1, 2006, pp. 79-95)

Interviews

Briganti, Annarita: ‘Quattro amiche (più una) al bar in libera uscita da figli e mariti’ (La Repubblica, 26 February, 2014)

Caliceti, Giuseppe [ed.]: ‘Silvia Ballestra’ in /bao’bab/ Autodizionario (Reggio Emilia: Comune di Reggio Emilia, Assessorato alla cultura e sapere, Biblioteca di San Pellegrino, 2000, pp. 11-13)

Caredda, Anna: ‘Intervista a Silvia Ballestra’ in Narrativa italiana recente/Recent Italian Fiction ed. by Giuliana Adamo et al. (Dublin/Turin: Trauben [in association with Department of Italian, Trinity College Dublin], 2005, pp. 83-93)

Colombo, Severino: ‘Silvia Ballestra e le lasagne pelose’ (Il Corriere della sera, 14 April, 2014)

Desideri, Giovanni: ‘In Italia la famiglia si sostituisce al Welfare’ (Il Messaggero, 20 February, 2014)

Imbó, Antonio and Venturini, Monica: ‘Non solo di piombo: due decenni a confronto. Colloquio con Silvia Ballestra; Il corvo e l’atomo’ (Caffé Michelangiolo 3, 2009, pp. 1000-1004)

Pallavicini, Piersandro: ‘Intervista a Silvia Ballestra’ (Pulp, 17, 1999, pp. 74-75)

Valerio, Chiara: ‘Quattro amiche al bar. Mogli e madri si raccontanto un mondo: il nuovo romanzo di Silvia Ballestra’ (L’Unità, 18 March, 2014)

Sebastiani, Alberto [ed.]: Mica male il tuo libro. Racconti e aneddoti sull’incontro-scontro con il lettore (Reggio Emilia: Aliberti, 2006)

Video and radio interviews are available on Ballestra’s official website: http://silviaballestra.it/sez/multimedia/

Compiled by Claudia Bernardi (Wellington)