curated by Laura Pugno
Caterina Soffici, writer and journalist, lives between London and Italy. Columnist for La Stampa, she collaborates with Tuttolibri, Vanity Fair and other newspapers. She believes in the power of words to change the world, which is why she runs writing classes at Ministry of Stories, the East London workshop for children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, where they work on creativity, storytelling and memory. For Feltrinelli she has published ‘Ma le donne no’ (2010), ‘Italia yes Italia no (2014) and the novel ‘Nessuno può fermarmi’ (2017). The latest novel, ‘Quello che possiedi’ (Feltrinelli 2021), is set in Florence. Here she comments on our project ‘Ritratti di donne’ (Portraits of Women).
Caterina Soffici, how do you read and interpret, in the light of your literary and journalistic work, an initiative such as “Ritratti di Donne”? What has changed since the days of “Ma le donne no”?
I find that any quality initiative that promotes the image and the work of Italian women is always welcome. We know that women – in our country more than elsewhere – are a resource that is undervalued and underestimated. “Ma le donne no” came out in 2010 and described Italy as a country caught in the grip of patriarchy and male chauvinism. Also due to the pandemic, the situation for women has generally worsened. Although we increasingly read about women at the top, about skilled professionals who manage to break through in their own fields, this rise of the excellent and the ‘number one’ is being offset by the decline of ordinary women, who have borne the burden of ‘Dad’ (Distance learning), families at home, care and double jobs (for those who still have them). I believe that the cultural battle for women’s liberation is not over and will never be over as long as a woman has to choose between motherhood and work, between her own private fulfilment (which is not necessarily motherhood) and her professional fulfilment.
You’re at home in the UK. How does the world of Italian books, literature and publishing appear from this perspective? And how has Brexit changed things?
I have been living between London and Italy for about ten years now and I am very connected to the Italian cultural world, also because I have always worked with Italian newspapers, for the cultural section. In the past, for example, I used to write a column called ‘Letture Facoltative’ (Optional Readings) for the Domenicale del Sole-24Ore newspaper, where I would recommend to Italian readers special and interesting books published in the Anglo-Saxon world. Today I collaborate with “Tuttolibri”, the cultural insert of La Stampa, where I mainly do reviews and big interviews – I would say more than long conversations – with English or American fiction authors. In general I would say that Italy has a more predictable type of publishing, because Italians are not strong readers. In the UK, perhaps because of the language advantage, production is much more varied. I really like going to bookshops to find unusual books and especially in the field of non-fiction you can find curious books and small publishing gems that are disappearing in Italy. The English translate very little: only 9% of what is printed is translated from other languages, so proportionally one can imagine how little Italian literature is known across the Channel. However, Brexit has nothing to do with it, it was the same before.
You work with the Ministry of Stories, the East London laboratory where children and teenagers are taught the importance of creativity, storytelling and memory. What word or words will sum up the year of the pandemic for us, what will we say about it?
The word that most represents the pandemic for me is “inequality”. This year has uncovered the problems in our society in general and the differences between individuals in particular: inequality between poor and rich countries, in health care, vaccines, learning opportunities, even survival. We know how Dad has been experienced differently depending on the economic and technological availability of families. The same can be said for lockdown. For some people it was a kind of holiday, for others a nightmare in a 40 square metre flat. Inequality between the big rich and the multinationals who got richer and the poor who got poorer. In the middle, I see a large swarm of frightened lower middle class, who are slipping towards lower and lower thresholds and are heavily affected by the pandemic. There is also inequality between those who have a guaranteed permanent job and those who are self-employed – VAT holders, seasonal workers, precarious workers. In short, wherever you turn, all you can see is inequality. And this – as history teaches – never brings anything good.