Author Nino Ricci (BA Spec. Hons. ’81) did more than just read March 2 at the concluding event in the 2009-2010 Michael Ondaatje Reading Series at Glendon – he presented glimpses of his childhood. He painted images of family-owned greenhouses filled with hothouse tomatoes, gave sound to the dialect of his parents’ home region in Molise, Italy, and brought understanding of the marginalization he experienced as part of an immigrant family in Canada.
Left: Ann Hutchison (left), chair of the Department of English at Glendon, and Nino Ricci
Born in 1959 in Leamington, Ont., Ricci studied in Toronto, Montreal and Florence. His Italian heritage and language are particularly prominent in his first novel, Lives of the Saints, the first in a trilogy. This book tells the story of Vittorio, a young boy living in and eventually leaving his home of Valle del Sole, a village cached in the mountainous region of Italy. The narrative voice of Vittorio is both mature and childlike – experienced, but innocent – in his exploration of the bonds and boundaries of family and community, of faith and superstition. Ricci’s other two books in the trilogy are In a Glass House (McClelland & Stewart, 1993) and Where She Has Gone (McClelland & Stewart, 1997).
Ricci related how the idea for his latest book, from which he read at Glendon, was sparked by a course he took during his undergraduate studies at York examining thinkers who questioned and adapted ideas of human morality.
Equally influential on Ricci was the Richard Dawkins book The Selfish Gene. Ricci explained that this book challenged his personal views on religion and morality, and led him to delve deeper into theories of evolution and human nature.
Right: Reporter and Glendon student Marijke Vander Klok (left) with Ricci
A thought-provoking class and an opinion-altering read, together with an ample supply of Canadian experiences, gathered at the back of the author’s mind to divide, multiply and evolve into a novel named for Darwin’s controversial publication The Origin of Species, (Doubleday Canada, 2008).
In his reading of The Origin of Species, Ricci introduced his novel’s protagonist Alex Fratarcangeli, a graduate student at Concordia University who searches for meaning amidst the often disheartening realities of life. Trekking in Darwin’s footsteps through the Galapagos Islands, Alex finds unlikely, intrinsic connections in everyday human relations – seated all the while in imaginary interviews with CBC’s famed Peter Gzowski.
Ricci spoke of writing as having a story to share, not simply an ideology in his head. He told the gathering that he works towards a final scene or at least an emotional end point for his protagonists, but allows room for the flow of inspiration and influence to saturate his stories. “The best characters are those who simply open the door and walk in, fully formed,” said Ricci.
The author has been awarded the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction for both Lives of the Saints and The Origin of Species. His novel Testament won the 2002 Trillium Book Award.
About the Michael Ondaatje Reading Series at Glendon
The Michael Ondaatje Reading Series is under the sponsorship of internationally acclaimed writer Michael Ondaatje, who taught English literature for a number of years at Glendon, as well as Glendon’s English Department. The series presents contemporary Canadian writers and poets who read from their recent works and discuss the writing process as they experience it.
Submitted by Glendon student Marijke Vander Klok