edited by Laura Pugno
Writer, journalist and television author, Giacomo Papi is the new director of the Laboratorio Formentini per l’editoria (Formentini Laboratory for Publishing), a space for promoting the editorial work of the Arnoldo and Alberto Mondadori Foundation, which includes among its institutional partners the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
How would you describe the activities of the Laboratorio Formentini to our readers in Italy and abroad, and especially those of international importance? What will be the guidelines of your mandate?
Publishing was conceived and developed in Milan in the twentieth century. That is to say, Milan is the Italian city most closely tied to international publishing and foreign writers. It already has strong and now centuries-old relations with foreign countries. The Laboratorio Formentini is a space made available by the Municipal Authority and managed by the Mondadori Foundation with the objective of bringing publishing to life and understanding the direction in which it is going. I am convinced that in a world in which everyone writes and publishes, everyone edits and everything, in a certain sense, becomes publishing. This is why I think that we have a duty and a need to rethink publishing. This is why, in addition to meetings with foreign writers – on 7 June, for example, we will host a meeting between the Swedish writer Björn Larsson and his Italian publisher Emilia Lodigiani – I would like Formentini to become the laboratory in which to rethink the social and even political significance of publishing a text today. We will continue to host the Milanese associations that work on these issues, the exhibitions and conferences of the Mondadori Foundation, and at the same time we will hold meetings and courses, not just in-house, but also open to the public, with the idea that today publishing no longer concerns publishing houses alone, but anyone who has something to say and make public.
Before the Laboratorio Formentini, you were director of the Belleville Writing School in Milan. Is there a demand for teaching Italian writing abroad? In what way, if any, does this relate to the growing interest in the world for our language in recent years?
I have met foreign students who enrolled on writing courses to perfect their Italian. And I know that in London and Paris, Italian writers hold writing courses for Italians, but also for English and French natives who want to learn more about the language. The idea of learning a language through its literature is very interesting: Borges said he had learned Italian by reading Dante and I would have loved to hear him speak. Until now, however, the interest in the Italian language you mention has come up against the hurdle of being objectively impossible, due to distance.
How has the recent and ongoing experience of the pandemic affected the international projection of Italian publishing? We all want to get back to a face-to-face dimension; however, have the new digital tools – including for example the portal New Italian Books – made it possible to integrate international relations into the daily dimension of those who write, publish and promote books in Italy and outside Italy?
What has happened in this terrible year is that we have learned en masse and at an impressive speed to use digital tools to work and to meet up. When everything is over, initially there will be a rejection, but soon after, we will go back to using computers as an additional way of meeting, working and learning. The distance between the languages will narrow. We will have one more possibility, not one less. I don’t know if this is related to the health of Italian books abroad, which are translated much more than ten years ago. Certainly digital, which today is everywhere, allows us to integrate these relationships, including working and editorial relationships, starting from the written word. For example, I have happened to attend encounters between foreign writers and discover that the meetings I organized were attended by foreigners who had emigrated to other foreign countries who were eager to listen to and learn Italian. I also suspect that this year, for Italians living abroad, the relationship with the Italian language has changed. The pandemic has attracted greater attention and a more intense nostalgia. This is why I am thinking of organizing at Bookcity the first international event for Italian expat writers, precisely to discuss, even in jest, the relationship with a distant language. After all, the Italian language began with Dante, therefore it was born in exile.