He should be a household name. He has written over forty books of poetry, novels and books of essays, done numerous translations from several different languages, made international award-winning films and founded a thriving national publishing house. It is time you get to know Antonio D’Alfonso.
He started his writing career in the seventies when he realized his own talents and the gifts of other writers of Italian
origin were not receiving the attention he felt they deserved. I had a chance to interview him recently for the website italocanadese.com. D’Alfonso answered all his questions with a masterful use of poetry. When asked what it was like for him and others during the beginning of his career he said:
I published my first book in 1973.
It took five years before I started
to publish other writers.
I was not aware we were Italians.
Out of five books, three were
by Italian-Canadians. Such a term
did not exist back then.
All I knew was that we scanned objects differently.
Not because of our content,
our forms were singular,
It was not something obvious.
D’Alfonso grew up in Montreal and moved to Toronto where he founded Guernica Editions and co-founded the Association of Italian Canadian Writers, both of which helped publish some of Canada’s most important writers such as Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, Mary Di Michele, Len Gasparini and Gianna Patriarca. When asked about D’Alfonso’s contributions to Canadian culture, Patriarca said, “He gave us the opportunity to have our work printed and validated. If Canadian culture truly reflects the diversity of its citizens, then Antonio gave us 30 years of diverse voices, in English, French and Italian, and created beautiful books that were very recognizable and distinctive and that will forever prove that we were here.”
Guernica Editions has published over 300 titles of poetry, fiction and essays and is one of the most diverse and important Canadian publishing houses today. Its current co-publisher, editor-in-chief and author, Michael Mirolla, had this to say about D’Alfonso’s contributions: “Aside from his writing, Antonio has worked tirelessly to bring books from the rest of the world to the attention of Canadians, often ‘forcing’ those translations into spaces that others couldn’t see. These included the publication of translations from authors such as Pasolini, Rimbaud, Pirandello and Lorca. He is himself a translator of note, with a special emphasis on translating writers from Quebec. And, if that isn’t enough, Antonio is also an accomplished and award-winning filmmaker. Truthfully, Antonio shouldn’t have need for these kinds of endorsements. His oeuvre – as publisher, writer, editor, translator and filmmaker – should speak for itself.”
D’Alfonso’s work transcends our many long held notions of identity, culture, poetics and narrative constructs. Here he explains what writing is for him:
My work has always been commissioned.
I have rarely sat down to write poetry.
Or essays. Or a novel. Or a translation.
Everything I have written was commissioned.
I have nothing to say.
So many writers have written
such great works. Who am I
to even dare walk into that citadel?
Writing is a wager. A bet
on something that is not necessary.
It must not become an obsession.
Illness brings about illness.
The writer is someone who
asks questions, but does not give
answers. Writing is a question
asked to the reader.
In recognizing Antonio D’Alfonso’s endless contributions to Canadian culture, Athabasca University has in turn acknowledged all the writers and artists who he helped publish, mentored and encouraged. This recognition, therefore, shines a light on all Italian-Canadian writers and artists who have given voice to the diverse stories of our community’s past, present and future. It’s time to visit your local library, bookstore, theatre and gallery to learn their names and enjoy their work.
written by Domenico Capilongo