Italian American Press
Founded in 2001        Italian and Italian American Authors and Books
The Italian American Press ©2011-2018  Janice Therese Mancuso
Author Interviews
Isabel Comis Degenaars Casada, A History of an Italian Village and Its People What motivated you to write your book? I grew up hearing stories of Casada, my family’s ancient homeland, shared by my father. His parents and uncles  immigrated to America in the 1920’s in search of work and the chance to start a new life. As he grew older, he shared stories I had never heard and be only recently remembered. Those memories tugged at his heart as it did mine. A 2010 visit to my grandparent’s ancestral home inspired me to translate my cousin Anna’ book into English. She was born in Casada and only lived a few miles from her family’s home. Recognizing the importance of documenting the history of this village led her to research and write about Casada since its earliest time. She was enchanted as was I with the magic of this ancient village nestled beneath the Dolomite Mountains, sometimes part of Austria but then reunited with Italy in the 19th century. I added an introduction that shared the immigrant experience of my family as they came to America and migrated to the coal mines of Western Pennsylvania. It includes research of early mining life in the coal patch of Francis Mine and the very human and, at times, tragic experience of the immigrants who worked them. Anna and I were separated by distance and culture but came together to share this rich history of shared lineage set in a land that continues to inspire and haunt those drawn to its verdant hills and valleys. What is the most important attribute of your book? The translation of this book into English was very challenging as the text included Italian, ancient, and local dialect but yet was so beautifully written. Another important attribute was my personal journey to research and write about early 20th century life in the coal mines of western Pennsylvania. Life was hard and often tragic but the immigrants who made mining their way of life did so to build a better life for their children. I came to better understand the man my father was after learning much about his early life in the mines. It was written from an Italian perspective. The translation offers an inside and personal glimpse into the sentiment and devotion Italians feel for the place they call home. Another important attribute was my personal journey to research and write about early 20th century life in the coal mines of western Pennsylvania. Life was hard and often tragic but the immigrants who made mining their way of life did so to build a better life for their children. I came to better understand the man my father was after learning much about his early life in the mines. How far back do you trace your family and can you explain the family name? With regard to family history, believe it or not but we have only traced the family tree back four generations, not very much. I’ve asked my cousin Bruno to go further back and the best I understand is it is both of the following – church records are not complete and why bother? I’m surprised because he is head of the Regola and is very proud of the heritage of Casada and maintaining its autonomous government. It was Anna’s desire to research and document the history and story of Casada from as early as documented and, in doing so, did an amazing job. She was able to weave “distant” memories and stories into this account along with her parents’ love for their birth “native” village. According to my cousin, approximately 60 to 70 percent of the residents had the name Comis. As you can see in the Family Name Chapter, many Comis names attached another name to differentiate families. With regard to individuals mentioned on pages 20 and 21, some are Anna’s relatives and some are either distant or not relatives at all. Many of the photos are from relatives but then some are from residents of the town whose name is also Comis. Why should someone read your book? For those who want to reconnect with their roots or to learn about Italian history and the Italian experience from its earliest time, readers will love to read this book. Casada is like so many villages in Italy, still preserved in time. Readers will enjoy this beautiful translation which maintained the beauty and subtlety of the Italian text. For many, reading about the early 20th century Italian American experience in the coal mines will be both interesting and heartfelt and will remind them about the stories they have heard and the hard years their relatives experienced when they first arrived in America.
Future Interviews Lou Del Bianco: Out of Rushmore’s Shadow - The Luigi Del Bianco Story [History] John Maresca: Helsinki Revisited [Memoir] Mark Tedesco: I Am John I Am Paul: A Story of Two Soldiers in Ancient Rome [Historical Fiction] Diana Pishner Walker: Spaghetti & Meatballs: Growing Up Italian [Children/Teen] Frank P. Riga: Beppo - A Calabrian Tale [Fiction]
Lee Casazza Big Mamma’s Italian-American Cookbook What inspired you to write your book? I wrote this cookbook because of my love for authentic Italian-American and Italian food. I was  taught original family recipes that were passed down by three generations of my husband’s Italian family. This ignited my passion for cooking everything Italian and Italian-American for the past fifty years. What is the most important attribute of your book? I offer many popular Italian-American recipes that people know and many they’ve never tasted before. There are even new ones I created on my own. All of my recipes come with a color photo of the actual food, just as they were served in our home. Why should someone read it? My cookbook is the story of family and the home-style, authentic Italian-American food that we all love. I provide recipe origins, easy instructions, personal tips, advice on the best and healthiest ingredients. Now, anyone can cook delicious dishes from Italy and America! How did you select the recipes for the cookbook? I selected the recipes from almost 50 years of making Italian-American food with recipes from my husband’s great grandmother, grandmother, mother, and aunt. Every family added their own secrets or personal touches that became their favorites. I also added my own original recipes that I experimented with and refined from travels to Italy. What are some of your favorite recipes in Big Mamma’s Italian-American Cookbook? Why are they your favorites? I have favorites in every chapter. (Antipasti) Bruschette di Pomodori: simple to put together and especially delicious with vine ripened summer tomatoes. (Insalate) Heirloom Cherry Tomato Caprese Salad: again, so simple to make. (Zuppe) Pasta e Fagioli: Italian and Italian-American families love this traditional soup. (Pizza) White Pizza: also simple to make and delicious with soup. (Pasta) Spaghetti, Pirate Style: an Italian American version of an Amalfi coast dish. (Pollo) Chicken Marsala: another classic Italian and Italian-American dish. (Carni) Big Mamma’s Sunday Braciole with Gravy: Big Mamma and her daughter, Mamaw, made this on Sundays. It simmers very slowly on the stove for 3 to 3½ hours. (Frutti di Mare) Baked Shrimp Scampi: what’s not to like about baked shrimp in a butter, olive oil, garlic sauce. (Uova) Eggs in Purgatory: a classic Italian-American breakfast dish. (Contorni) Risotto alla Milanese: all-time favorite side dish. (Dolci) Lemon Sorbet with Prosecco: easy to make and a delicious summer time after dinner drink and dessert, all in one! What are some of the easiest recipes to prepare? Definitely my recipes listed at 30 minutes or less. Several of the above recipes are easy to prepare (Eggs in Purgatory, Chicken Marsala, Baked Shrimp Scampi). I also highly recommend Grilled Steak Tagliata – marinated steak cooked over the grill, sliced thin and served with arugula, vinaigrette, and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. What would be a good holiday menu – from appetizer to dessert – to prepare? On Christmas Day, traditional Italian-Americans start out with a salad, then there is pasta, a meat, a side dish, and of course a dessert. This is our favorite: Mediterranean Salad, Casazza Lasagne al Forno, Big Mamma’s Sunday Braciole with Gravy or Roasted Pork Tenderloin, Peas with Pancetta, [and] any type of Italian cookies for dessert (Raspberry Jam-Filled Hearts, Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti, Lady Kisses).
Andrea Parisi Italian Through Food What inspired you to write your book?  I was born and raised in the USA, but it wasn’t until I moved to Italy that I truly learned how to eat well. I’m indebted to the Italians for teaching me the importance of good food, for the body as well as for bringing people together and adding meaning to life. I wanted to create a book that would provide readers with a window into this marvelous food culture, and also give them the language skills they could use to further explore la cucina Italiana on their own. What is the most important attribute of your book? Italian Through Food places equal emphasis on exploring Italian food culture and learning the language. It’s not just an appetizing approach: research is starting to show the many benefits of culture-based language learning. My own teaching experience has shown that once the topic turns to food, students light up and really get engaged. So in this book, language and food are inseparable, you study both together. Why should someone read it?  Have you ever wondered what makes Italian food so good? With Italian Through Food, you’ll develop the cultural know-how and language skills needed to understand where all of this deliciousness comes from. Whether you’re a newbie to the language or someone who’s taken years of Italian courses, you’ll enjoy reading through the story of how the Italians transformed ordinary nourishment into one of the greatest pleasures in life. Do you still teach this course? How does the course expand on the learning techniques in the book? I stopped teaching the course when I moved back to Europe in 2011. That’s when I first started combining the lesson plans into a narrative. The class was usually taught over 10 weeks, but the book contains 20 units, so it has room to cover a lot more grammar and information than the original course did. Did you write the book because you weren't teaching the class anymore?  To some extent, yes. My students were so enthusiastic and engaged in the course, I wanted everyone to have the chance to enjoy this material, whether or not I was teaching the class. I had also seen, over the years, that there were a lot of colleges and community centers offering Italian courses molded around the theme of food. Since I had taught the course for a few years and had worked hard on writing/revising the lesson plans, I thought the Italian Through Food workbook would be useful for other teachers, giving them ideas and saving them time. What feedback did you get from your students that helped develop the book? Although there are Italian restaurants in every corner of the globe, aspects of Italian food culture can still seem unbelievable or unfamiliar: the fact that pomodori were originally imported to Italy from the Americas, how gelato differs from ice cream, ways to classify cheeses … My students really helped me understand where more explanation and further information was needed. Another important lesson they taught me was how prevalent dialect is among Italian American communities. Several of my students were surprised to find out that the words they learned from their nonni were actually dialect, and that standard Italian uses a different lexicon. I know some of my readers will have a similar experience, and that's why this subject is addressed in the pages right before the first unit. How did you decide on the title and format of the book? The title came straight from the course. [The format through] trial and error! As the lesson plans from the Italian Through Food course were all text, I had originally thought the book would be a simple black & white workbook. Only after completing a first draft and getting feedback from a few readers did I understand how important it was to include color and images. Italian Through Food includes cultural and historical information about Italy and its food. What led you to include these facts? I’ve been learning about Italian food for decades, and I’ve always found the stories behind the cuisine to be delightful and fun to share. It took a couple drafts to streamline the history and cultural information into brief and interesting nuggets. Adult Italian students tend to have very busy schedules, so I wanted the book to be light and enjoyable, yet still informative. How long did it take to write Italian Through Food? It took about 8 years, with plenty of pauses due to other projects and life events. I wanted to make sure that all of the history and “food lore” in the book was accurate, and that required about 150 hours of research in Italian libraries. It was also difficult to work on this book for more than 2-3 hours at a time. Writing about food really does make you hungry, and I often found myself cutting a research or editing session short to go get something to eat!
Bill Dal Cerro Bebop, Swing, and Bella Musica What inspired you to write your book? My full time-job is English/Communications high school teacher; however, I am also a part-time journalist and, over the past twenty years, have combined both interests (teaching and 'italianita'). As a reporter and then columnist with Fra Noi Italian American Newspaper in Chicago (1992-2002), I did interviews and wrote pieces about the local (Midwestern) Italian American experience. And, as first a writer and then board member of the Italic Institute of America in New York (where I served as its national president from 2008-2016), I was able to broaden the scope of my writing and research. The subject of jazz interested me as I had an uncle who played saxophone and who would often take me to jazz clubs. In the late 90s and early 2000s, while still writing for Fra Noi, I noticed the large number of jazz musicians who either had Italian surnames or were of Italian heritage. I approached a fellow journalist at Fra Noi who had already been writing jazz pieces, David Anthony Witter, and broached the idea of possibly combining our knowledge/research skills on the subject of Italians in jazz. We got a grant of $5,000 from the National Italian American Foundation and began our work.  What is the most important attribute of your book? We consider the whole book important; however, while doing our research, we were struck by how two issues in the book, race relations and immigration, are still very relevant today. In terms of immigration, this book reminds readers of just how harsh the experience of mass emigration was for the Italians: public scorn, media defamation (which still continues in 2017!), anti-Italian discrimination (such as the 1924 immigration act), and even violence (the lynchings in New Orleans). In terms of race relations, the role that Italian American musicians had in breaking the color barrier for African Americans is an unknown and inspiring one which more people need to learn. Although Nick LaRocca, credited with creating the first jazz record in 1917, was a bit of an egomaniac who was hostile to giving African Americans any credit for inventing jazz (which is historically absurd), the great, great majority of Italian Americans openly – even boldly – challenged the racial animosity toward black performers at the time. This includes bandleader Joe Marsala (who hired African Americans in his band in 1936) and drummer Louie Bellson (the first white drummer in Duke Ellington's band) to singers like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett who campaigned for civil rights. Why should someone read it? The reason people should read it is because it shows the link between Italians in America and Italians in Italy – specifically, the innate musicality which has been a part of Italian history through the ages. Italian immigrants brought those same musical and improvisational talents to America. How long did it take to research the book and how did you decide on the format? The book took about ten years to finish ... mostly because Dave and I are full-time educators (English high school teachers) and could only work on it during summers. As reporters for Fra Noi Italian American newspaper in Chicago, we had both done pieces on Italian American jazz artists; we saw each other's pieces and said, “Hey, let's combine our talents/research ... there might be a bigger story here” (a book.). So it was! In researching, what was your biggest discovery about Italian Americans and jazz? Our biggest discovery was how long and continuous the influence has been, from the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917 to Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga in 2017! And the theme of how Italian Americans befriended and helped out a similarly socially oppressed group, African Americans, is an inspired part of our nation's history.
JoAnn Locktov, Editor Dream of Venice Architecture Dream of Venice What inspired you to publish your books? Originally I was inspired by Charles Christopher’s images of Venice. They were so unusual and unlike any photos of Venice that I had ever seen before. Since the city is one of the most photographed in the world, that tells you how remarkable they are! My shelves are filled with books on Venice but I wanted to create a different kind of book, one that paired a hidden Venice with words from contemporary Venetophiles. What is the most important attribute of your books? I think the most important attribute of my books is that they deepen the reader’s knowledge and appreciation of Venice. Not with historical facts but by the shared experiences of the writers and photographers. It is my hope that reading the books will alter the reader’s perception of Venice, whether they’ve never gone, or visit often. Why should someone read them? Venice is a mysterious, challenging city, often difficult to navigate and decipher. The books encourage a passagieta, a slow meander through the city. Venice is in a precarious place right now, and I want the books to encourage sustainable travel, which means visiting during off-season, and wandering into areas beyond the Piazza and Rialto to discover wonderful treasures. There is a millennial history of culture in Venice, and when you read my books, you can feel the dignity of the past and the hope for the future. What do you think of the current situation in Venice in relation to tourism? Your question is an important one, I’m actually glad that you asked it. I have very strong opinions on the matter, which may be too political … For many decades Venice has not supported residents to strengthen their quality of life in the city. The mass-tourism increases yearly and the residential population falls in direct inverse proportion. The unmanaged tourism creates a multitude of problems; from safety to housing to infrastructure. The irony is that that with 30 million tourists visiting annually with absolutely no reins on their behavior, or education about the city, the actual experience of visiting Venice is being greatly diminished. The books I am publishing are an attempt to think about the city on a deeper level, stay a little longer and visit in the off season. I would say that Venice has reached her tipping point, if the administration fails to act now, they may have reached the point of no return. It is a difficult and complicated problem, but the administration’s solution to create a press campaign with a hashtag doesn’t even remotely begin to address the situation. It’s like putting a band-aid on a gun shot wound. Venice is not alone in finally being forced to deal with a type of tourism that erodes the social fabric of the city, but they are alone in their complete refusal to implement rigorous solutions.