John Picchione awarded major book prize for The New Avant-Garde in Italy

York Professor John Picchione (right) has been awarded the annual book award of the American Association of Italian Studies for his book The New Avant-Garde in Italy: Theoretical Debate and Poetic Practices (University of Toronto Press, 2004).

Established in 1978, the American Association of Italian Studies (AAIS) works to support and undertake research about Italian culture, including Italian language, art, history and cinema and how Italian culture influences other cultures. Each year the AAIS appoints a committee to determine which book’s contribution to Italian studies merits its annual book award. This year, that award went to Picchione.

Picchione, who teaches in the Languages, Literatures and Linguistics Department of York’s Faculty of Arts, specializes in Italian literature and culture. His award-winning book builds on his previous work on the Italian avant-garde, particularly on poet Antonio Porta. Picchione published a book on Porta in Italian several years ago, but realized that very little work in English had been conducted on the Italian avant-garde movement. The realization inspired him to address this gap in the literature by focusing on his passion for Italian avant-garde poetry.

In The New Avant-Garde in Italy, Picchione describes how in the period between the late 1950s and the late 1960s neoavant-garde writers instigated one of the most intense and controversial cultural debates to occur in Italy from the Second World War to the present. The neoavant-garde, including writers such as Sanguineti, Giuliani, Guglielmi, Balestrini and Eco, consisted of two opposing blocs. Both groups moved away from linguistic norms and traditions and theorized about the role of the reader in literary texts. However, one group focused on how literature could perform a subversive political function by introducing disorder into texts, while the other argued that literature had no real social value. Other Italian writers, such as Pasolini, Calvino and Moravia, took part in the debate by opposing the neoavant-garde’s literary stands. Picchione explains how these debates correspond to contemporary debates about modernity and post-modernity and illustrates how many key issues about culture and society discussed today were raised by the Italian neoavant-garde.

The AAIS book award committee members were very impressed with “the well-informed and original discussion” found in Picchoine’s book. However, for Picchione, the award was utterly unexpected. “I was completely surprised and honoured,” he says. “It’s great to get this kind of encouragement. Knowing that readers appreciate your work – that what you’re doing is of interest to other people – is tremendously rewarding.”

This story was submitted to YFile by Arlene Williams, researcher and writer, Faculty of Arts.