The new editorial project dedicated to the Sardinian writer.
Interview by Laura Pugno
A poetry consultant for Bompiani editions and a poet in his own right, Gerardo Masuccio (Battipaglia, 1991) is one of the young founders of a new publishing house, Utopia editore. It has been involved in republishing the most valuable and hard to find works of Grazia Deledda, the only Italian writer to win the Nobel Prize, selected and introduced by the Sardinian writer Michela Murgia, who was the protagonist of ‘Quasi Grazia‘, the play by Marcello Fois which is dedicated to Deledda and which italiana has put on Vimeo in Italian (with English subtitles available).
How did you come to the editorial decision to republish Grazia Deledda’s work, and what feedback did you receive, both from the Italian book trade and from an international perspective?
For many years, whenever I entered bookstores, I always checked whether the titles of Grazia Deledda, an author whom I have always read and greatly appreciated, were on display on the literature shelf under the letter D. I hardly ever came across a title of hers other than ‘Reeds in the Wind’. And the actual editions of her novels, which have been forced into a kind of underground existence in the large-scale retail trade, have almost never seemed to live up to her name. When Utopia was born, it seemed to me that the whole concept of only selecting high literature was a perfect fit with this recovery of Deledda’s works. No longer in a paperback edition with twentieth-century covers, but in a series of refined books that speak freshly to young people. Michela Murgia, with enormous generosity, agreed to select and introduce the books each time. The press and readers are reacting with enthusiasm, a feedback that pushes Utopia to continue firmly in this project.
What drives a group of young entrepreneurs, not yet 30 years old, to found a new publishing house and what is the editorial line of Utopia? Your catalogue shows a certain propensity to rediscover 20th-century Italian classics, such as Massimo Bontempelli, and not only Italian ones… Is there a new appetite, today, in Italy and abroad, for these voices from our literary heritage?
It all stems from a vocation for reading and caring for books. And from the awareness that my generation, when it comes to literature and publishing, has inherited little from the previous one. It’s an anachronistic and tired industry that always seems to be on the verge of implosion. I think of publishing as an artistic activity and therefore Utopia was conceived as a publishing house for quality literature, with a certain poetic and graphic coherence, extending from the recovery of great neglected classics (Bontempelli, Cela, Scanziani, Undset) to the search for disruptive voices on the contemporary international scenario (Carson, Aidt, Devi, Bracher). At the moment, works are being translated from some fifteen languages, including Tamil, Vietnamese, Farsi and Uzbek. There is a lot of attention, in Italy and abroad, and many readers feel a need for authenticity in a context where every publishing house claims to be publishing a masterpiece a week. I choose books that, as a discerning reader, I find persuasive. About ten a year, so as not to bore today’s readers. I am already addressing those who have not yet been born, because Utopia only publishes books that can express themselves across time, over the decades, as only true art can do.
The next few years will be studded with important events for Italian book around the world, from Livre Paris to the Buchmesse in Frankfurt in 2024, where Italy will be guest of honour. What can Italian publishers do to get prepared?
Challenge the inevitable, that is the widespread lack of interest in reading and the fragility of Italian in the international context. If one has to resign oneself to certain dynamics that are exogenous to the world of literature (how can a refined book compete with superficial and simplistic forms of entertainment? How can a regional language compete with English?), the endogenous causes of weakening can be systematically addressed: overproduction, conflicts of interests along the book supply chain, the frequent absence of internalized legal, managerial and marketing skills, the inability to attract talent, sluggishness in pursing new avenues for linguistic translation, and budgets that stifle intellectual capacity rather than making it sustainable. It’s not easy, I realize. That is where Utopia gets its name from, if it fails, it will have failed trying.