Rossana Campo (photo courtesy of the author)
Rossana Campo (photo courtesy of the author)
CCWW_header_update3

Born in 1963 in Genoa into a Neapolitan family, Rossana Campo is a prolific novelist and painter, the author of numerous novels, a radio drama, and several children’s books. Her literary formation, under the neo-avant-garde poet Edoardo Sanguineti, led her to develop an experimental style that has been linked to that of her dissertation supervisor. It was Gianni Celati who noted the similarities between Campo and Sanguineti in his introduction to her short story ‘La storia della Gabri’, published in the anthology Narratori delle riserve in 1992. The 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in what have since come to be known as the Americas marked Campo’s literary debut with a novel, In principio erano le mutande, set in the historic centre of Genoa. The multicultural environment of the city’s underbelly, with its grunge and picaresque atmosphere, reflects the uncensored theme of her narrative, which, as the title indicates, begins with underwear (mutande). The garment that restrains human sexuality and scatology is, in fact, a titillating reference to the protagonist’s sexual initiation. It is in that territory where the sun never shines, be it the ‘vicoli’ of the Ligurian capital or the most intimate of garments, that Campo sets her first narrative.

The success of In principio erano le mutande prompted Italian director Anna Negri to turn the book into a movie with the same title in 1999, a decision that demonstrates that the novel was not only a best-seller but also a long-seller. After it reached a wide audience, Campo became a controversial literary figure, praised and criticized for her stylistic choices, especially her linguistic and thematic innovations, which mimic contemporary urban idioms and situations. Considered ‘one of Italy’s most iconoclastic, “resisting” writers’ (Ferme, 2006) owing to her stylistic and linguistic choices ‒ which include an over-reliance on colloquialisms, jargon, and debased juvenile language ‒ Campo’s language shares many similarities with the language of the ‘giovani cannibali’. Like many of the young writers who came of age in the early 1990s, she displays a ‘brash and provocative narrative’ (Lucamante, ‘Introduction’, 2001) that centers on female sexuality.

Her own experience as the daughter of southern immigrants living in a northern town filter into her second novel, Il pieno di super (1993), in which the image of the sexual act (to which the title makes sly allusion) guides a narrative that revolves around a group of girls approaching puberty while facing discrimination as ‘meridionali’ [southern]. Frequent dialogue and lack of punctuation create the mimetic effect of eavesdropping on the conversations of a group of female friends at various stages of their lives, young adolescents voicing their sexual curiosity or women discussing their disastrous love relationships, as in the case of her third novel. Mai sentita così bene (1995; Never Felt So Good, 2020) showcases a plurality of female voices centred on sexual escapades against the background of a rainy Paris. Whether set in that city or in her native Genoa, Campo’s novels turn to humour as a weapon to help women combat their own victimization.

Expanding her narrative geography with settings in both Paris and New York, L’attore americano (1997) is the most cinematographic of Campo’s novels. Like the previous ones, it allows us to view life through the eyes of a female first-person narrator, in this case a woman who makes us privy to her catastrophic love story with an American actor whom she chases in the Big Apple.

Lesbianism, a theme present in many of her works since In principio, acquires major relevance in her radio drama Il matrimonio di Maria, aired on Radio 3 in 1997 (published in 1998), and in her detective novel Mentre la mia bella dorme (1999). Probably the most innovative in theme, Mentre la mia bella dorme tells the story of a pregnant journalist who investigates the mysterious death of her neighbour and occasional partner during a hot Parisian summer.

As Campo’s protagonists grow up, female solidarity as well as rivalry continue to appear in her novels, which often acquire darker tones. The shattering consequences of love are still at the centre of her narrative, as the titles of her subsequent books indicate: Sono pazza di te (2001), L’uomo che non ho sposato (2003), and Duro come l’amore (2005) all centre on love and eroticism. To confirm the relational aspect of woman’s condition, Campo returns obsessively to the effects of sexual traumas, as in her novel Lezioni di arabo (2010).

A prolific writer, Campo has combined her literary career with a keen interest in the visual arts, revealing her imagination not only in written form but also in a variety of drawings and paintings. Women, little girls, and animals find colourful expression in her artwork, which has been exhibited at the Pintapiuma Gallery in Genoa in 2002 and, in 2003, at the Baruchello Foundation in Rome entitled Bambine chiuse, ragazze chiatte, mamme bisbetiche. Questa volta la storia la raccontiamo noi. In 2012 Genoese publisher Il Canneto brought out a complete catalogue of her artwork called L’arte soppianta tutti gli enzimi: Opere 2000-2011. In her art and in her children’s books, Campo treats her young female protagonists to a world unhindered by the rules of adult logic.

As she remarked in an interview following publication of her collection of short stories Difficoltà per le ragazze (2016), gender issues have played a key role in Campo’s works: ‘Io ho sempre desiderato scrivere anche per raccontare le donne come le vedo io, per raccontare di me e delle donne che conosco’ (Maugeri, 2016). Although political themes such as multiculturalism, racism, and migration are crucial to her oeuvre, many of her novels revolve primarily around the ways in which women challenge gender norms and heteropatriarchy. In them, the erotic as well as the interpersonal aspects of her protagonists’ existence are detailed, because as Campo has indicated, ‘A me interessa seguire le mie eroine anche in camera da letto, mi piace sentire cosa provano quando fanno l’amore, quando si lasciano andare o hanno un orgasmo’ (García Valdés, 2015). The physical as well as psychological aspects of women’s lived experiences are expressed in a vivid language that never ceases to express the resilience of her protagonists. Love and its discontents are key thematic issues, explored through a plurality of characters in a postmodern, feminist, and post-feminist fashion in a multiplicity of plots that draw attention to the pervasiveness of gender-based violence.

While most of her works are fictional, the therapeutic aspect of autobiographical writing is explored in two of her most recent books: Dove troverete un altro padre come il mio (2015) and Scrivere è amare di nuovo: l’autobiografia come rinascita (2020). In the former, a memoir, the loss of her father prompts a process of self-analysis that leads her to revisit her complex and often conflicting relationship with a man who defied social norms while failing to find a place in society. Although she struggled to understand her father, she acknowledges his long-lasting influence on her life. In 2016, the book was awarded the Premio Strega Giovani and the Premio Elsa Morante. In Scrivere è amare di nuovo, Campo invites her readers to engage in practical writing exercises by entering into dialogue with Adriana Cavarero’s theories of self-narration.

Her latest novel, Così allegre senza nessun motivo (2019), revisits one of Campo’s most beloved themes, female friendship, through a heterogenous group of women who live and work in Paris, Campo’s once-adoptive city. Festive dinner parties showcase the world of strong, nonconformist women, zealous to discuss literature and life. From the vantage point that postmenopausal bodies afford, the protagonists use humour and creativity (as the title indicates) to face middle life and its challenges. While Campo’s writing style is no longer as provocative and iconoclastic as in her previous work, it continues to explore women’s agency with great sensitivity.

Compiled by Marina Bettaglio (Victoria, Canada) 

Bibliography

‘La storia della Gabri’ in Narratori delle riserve ed. by Gianni Celati (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1992, pp. 65-72)

In principio erano le mutande (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1992)

Il pieno di super (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1993)

Mai sentita così bene (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1995)

‘Come una banana’ in Nella città proibitaQuattordici scrittrici italiane narrano l'erotismo, il desiderio, la seduzione ed. by Maria Rosa Cutrufelli (Milan: Tropea, 1997, pp. 43-50); republished as Nella città proibita. Quattordici racconti erotici di scrittrici italiane (Milan: Net, 2003)

L’attore americano (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1997)

Il matrimonio di Maria (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1998)

Mentre la mia bella dorme (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1999)

Sono pazza di te (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2001)

L’uomo che non ho sposato (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2003)

Duro come l’amore (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2005)

Più forte di me (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2007)

Lezioni di arabo (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2010)

L’arte soppianta tutti gli enzimi: Opere 2000- 2011 (Genoa: Il Canneto, 2012)

Felice per quello che sei. Confessioni di una buddista emotiva (Rome: Perrone, 2012; Milan: Mondadori, 2015))

Il posto delle donne (Milan: Ponte alle Grazie, 2013)

Fare l’amore (Milan: Ponte alle Grazie, 2014)

Dove troverete un altro padre come il mio (Milan: Ponte alle Grazie, 2015)

Difficoltà per le ragazze (Rome: Perrone, 2016)

Così allegre senza nessun motivo (Milan: Bompiani 2019)

Scrivere è amare di nuovo: l’autobiografia come rinascita (Rome: Perrone, 2020)

Children’s and Young Adults’ Books

La gemella buona e la gemella cattiva (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2000)

Piccoli Budda (Rome: Gallucci, 2013)

La figlia del re drago (Milan: Piemme, 2017)

Cati. Una favola di potere (Milan: Bompiani, 2017)

La streghetta Emma e la principessa Bettina (Milan: Solferino, 2021)

Translations into Italian by Campo

Peldicarota [Translation of Jules Renard’s Poil de carotte] (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2007)

Film Adaptations

Negri, Anna [director], In principio erano le mutande (Segrate, MI: Medusa, 1999)

Translations into Foreign Languages

Dutch

De Amerikaanse acteur [Translation of L’attore americano by Els van de Pluym] (Amsterdam: Wereldbibliotheek, 1999)

Pavarotti, Giovanna and I [Translation of In principio erano le mutande by Henrieke Herber] (Amsterdam: Wereldbibliotheek, 2000)

English

‘Like a Banana’ [Translation of ‘Come una banana’ by Vincent J. Bertolini] in In the Forbidden City: An Anthology of Erotic Fiction by Italian Women ed. by Maria Rosa Cutrufelli (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2000, pp. 37-44)

Never Felt So Good [Translation of Mai sentita così bene by Adria Frizzi] (McLean, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 2020)

French

L’amour, des fois, quand ça s’y met [Translation of In principio erano le mutande by Nicole Sels] (Paris: P.O.L., 1995)

L’Acteur américain [Translation of L’attore americano by Michel Plon] (Paris: Fayard, 2000)

À la folie [Translation of Sono pazza di te by Michel Plon] (Paris: Fayard, 2002)

Mio padre [Translation of Dove troverete un altro padre come il mio by Anaïs Bouteille-Bokobza] (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 2017)

German

Am Anfang war die Unterhose [Translation of In principio erano le mutande by Hilde Brunow] (Munich: Goldmann, 1993)

Tiger im Tank [Translation of Il pieno di super by Hilde Brunow] (Munich: Goldmann, 1995)

Lippenstift und Ladyshave [Translation of Mai sentita così bene by Hilde Brunow] (Munich: Goldman, 1997)

Liebe auf amerikanish [Translation of L’attore americano by Stefanie Risse] (Munich: Goldman, 1998)

Während meine Schöne schläft [Translation of Mentre la mia bella dorme by Stefanie Risse] (Munich: Scherz, 2001)

Polish

Silniejsze ode mnie [Translation of Più forte di me by Justyna Czaplińska] (Warsaw: Warszawskie Wydawnictwo Literackie Muza, 2009)

Portuguese

Onde você vai encontrar um outro pai como o meu [Translation i of Dove troverete un altro padre come il mio by Cezar Tridapalli] (Belo Horizonte: Editora Âyiné, 2020)

Serbian

Dok moje zlato spava [Translation of Mentre la mia bella dorme by Mirela Radosavljević and Aleksandar Levi] (Belgrade: Narodna Knjiga Alfa, 2003)

Spanish

Nunca me he sentido tan bien [Translation of Mai sentita così bene by Pablo Zamora Muñoz] (Murcia: Diego Marín, 1999)

Mientras mi niña duerme [Translation of Mentre la mia bella dorme by Laura Calvo Valdivieso] (Barcelona: Barataria Ediciones, 2007)

Dónde vais a encontrar un padre como el mío [Translation of Dove troverete un altro padre come il mio by Mercedes Corral] (Madrid: Siruela, 2017)

Criticism

Anatrone, Sole: ‘Disciplining Narratives and Damaged Identities in Rossana Campo’s Lezioni di arabo’ (California Italian Studies, 4.2, 2013 pp. 1-15) available online at https://escholarship.org/uc/item/1zz6852n

—: Finding Feminist Affect in Italian Literature: From Sibilla Aleramo to Rossana Campo, 1906-2012 (PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 2015)

Arriaga Flórez, Mercedes: ‘Cultura postmoderna y narrativa italiana: Nunca me he sentido tan bien de Rossana Campo’ (Garoza: Revista de la Sociedad Española de Estudios Literarios de Cultura popular, 3, 2003, pp. 27-39)

Bellesia, Giovanna: ‘Mai sentite così bene: Solidarietà fra donne nei romanzi di Rossana Campo’ (Italian Culture, 16.1, 1998, pp. 157-167)

Berisso, Marco: ‘Linguistic Levels and Stylistic Solutions in the New Italian Narrative (1991-98)’ in Italian Pulp Fiction. The Narrative of the Giovani Cannibali Writers ed. by Stefania Lucamante (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2000, pp. 76-97)

Bernardi, Claudia: ‘Recalcitrant Daughters: The Search for Literary Mothers in Italian Women’s Fiction of the 1990s’ in Women’s Writing in Western Europe: Gender, Generation and Legacy ed. by Adalgisa Giorgio and Julia Waters (Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007, pp. 69-84)

—: The 'Pulp' Generation between Avant-garde and Tradition(s): Legacies, Gender and Youth Culture in the Narrative of Silvia Ballestra, Rossana Campo and Isabella Santacroce (PhD dissertation, University of Bath, 2009)

—: ‘Murders in Shocking Pink: Women, Love and Desire in Rossana Campo's Noir Fiction’ (Quaderni d’Italianistica, 37.1, 2016, pp. 141-158)

Contarini, Silvia: ‘L’eredità della neoavanguardia nei romanzi di Silvia Ballestra, Rossana Campo, Carmen Covito’ (Narrativa, 8, 1995, pp. 75-99)

—: ‘Riflessioni sulla narrativa femminile degli anni ’90’ (Narrativa, 10, 1996, pp. 139-163)

Corpas Pastor, Gloria and Jorge Jesús Leiva Rojo: ‘La oralidad del discurso escrito: la traducción de unidades fraseológicas en Während meine Schöne schläft’ in La creatividad en el lenguaje: colocaciones idiomáticas y fraseología ed. by Juán de Dios Luque Durán and Antonio Pamies Bertrán (Granada: Granada Lingvistica, 2005, pp. 53–72)

Di Ciolla McGowan, Nicoletta: ‘Giovani pulp crescono: Il percorso della narrativa italiana degli anni Novanta nell’opera di Rossana Campo’ (Narrativa, 16, 1999, pp. 167-181)

—: ‘Mai sentite così bene. L’universo femminile nei romanzi di Rossana Campo’ in Da Calvino agli ipertesti: prospettive della postmodernità nella letteratura italiana ed. by Laura Rorato and Simona Storchi (Florence: Franco Cesati, 2002, pp. 169-176)

Favata, Giovanni e Liana Tronci: ‘Fare sociolinguistica attraverso la letteratura: una proposta didattica per studiare le varietà dell’italiano’ (Italiano a scuola, 1.1, 2019, pp. 25-46). A socio-linguistic analysis of Dove troverete un altro padre come il mio available online at https://doi.org/10.6092/issn.2704-8128/9993

Ferme, Valerio: ‘Gay, Feminist, and Arbëresh: Marginal Italian Identities in the Fiction of Aldo Busi, Rossana Campo, and Carmine Abate’ (Annali d’Italianistica. Negotiating Italian Identities, 24, 2006, pp. 133-158)

Gahl, Peter: ‘Identità femminile e generazionale in In principio erano le mutande di Rossana Campo’ (Cahiers d’études italiennes. Nocecento... e dintorniImages littéraires de la société contemporaine (3) ed. by Alain Sarrabayrouse and Christophe Mileschi, 7, 2008, pp. 137-148)

García Valdés, Pablo: ‘Heroínas y personajes femeninos transgresores en la literatura italiana actual: Rossana Campo y Melissa P.’ in Locas: escritoras y personajes femeninos cuestionando las normas ed. by Mercedes González de Sande, Daniele Cerrato, and Eva Marí Moreno Lago (Sevilla: Arcibel, 2015, pp. 635-647)

—: ‘Rossana Campo y la novela negra’ in El género negro: de la marginalidad a la normalización ed. by Alex Martín Escribà and Javier Sánchez Zapatero (Santiago de Compostela: Andavira, 2016, pp. 223-228)

Litherland, Kate: ‘Rossana Campo: Un-learning the Rules of Writing’ (The Italianist, 24.1, 2004, pp. 126-134)

—: Pulp: Youth Language, Popular Culture and Literature in 1990s Italian Fiction. PhD dissertation (University of Leicester, 2006)

—: ‘Translating “America” in 90s Italian Fiction’ in Translation Practices: Through Language to Culture ed. by Ashley Chantler and Carla Dente, introd. by Manfred Pfister (Amsterdam-New York: Rodopi, 2009, pp. 115-128)

Lucamante, Stefania: ‘Introduction. Pulp, Splatter, and More: The New Italian Narrative of Giovani Cannibali Writers’ in Italian Pulp Fiction. The Narrative of the Giovani Cannibali Writers ed. by Stefania Lucamante (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001, pp. 13-37)

—: ‘Per uno sguardo diverso: Cinema, Santa Cecilia e Micky Rourke nell’Attore americano’ (Narrativa, 20.2, 2001, pp. 19-34)

Pagano, Tullio: ‘Per una lettura diasporica della narrativa di Rossana Campo’ (Italica, 84.2-3, 2007, pp. 274-289)

Piechocki, Katharina: ‘“Transglobal destroy”? Zapping Female Italian Novelists at the Turn of the Millennium’ (Interlitteraria, 9, 2004, pp. 102-119)

Sanfilippo, Marina: ‘Palabras cambiantes para mujeres mutantes (Syria Poletti, Marisa Fenoglio y Rossana Campo)’ in Mujeres en la frontera ed. by Margarita Almela, María García Lorenzo, Helena Guzmán, and Marina Sanfilippo (Madrid: Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, 2013, pp. 171-190)

Scrimieri, Maria Grazia: ‘Vie domestique et pratiques alimentaires. Simone de Beauvoir & Rossana Campo’ (Cahiers Sens public, 25-26.3-4, 2019, pp. 197-213)

Spunta, Marina: ‘The “Young” Orality of the 1990s: Campo, Ballestra, and Nove’ in Voicing the Word: Writing Orality in Contemporary Italian Fiction (Berne: Peter Lang, 2004, pp. 229-270)

Storini, Monica Cristina: ‘4.3.2. Il livello temporale nella narrazione di Rossana Campo’ in L’esperienza problematica: generi e scrittura nella narrativa italiana del Novecento (Rome: Carocci, Università degli Studi ‘La Sapienza', 2005, pp. 253-260)

Subrizi, Carla and Teresa Macrì: Rossana Campo. Arte/corpo/colore (Rome: Loplop, 2003)

Viazmenski, Julia: ‘Cinema as Negotiation in Rossana Campo’s L’attore americano’ (Italica, 78.2, 2001, pp. 203-220)

Interviews/in the Media

‘Intervista a Rossana Campo ‒ XXX edizione del Premio Italo Calvino’ (18 October 2017) available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEFQJSAHav4

García Valdés, Pablo: ‘Entrevista a Rossana Campo’ (Raudem: Revista de estudios de las mujeres, 3, 2015, pp. 339-344)

Maugeri, Massimo: ‘Difficoltà per le ragazze di Rossana Campo (intervista)’ (LetteratitudineNews. Quotidiano culturale online, 12 October 2016) available online at  https://letteratitudinenews.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/difficolta-per-le-ragazze-di-rossana-campo/