“The Power of What Comes After”: Italian-American Death Talk

Mary Jo Bona, Stony Brook University Mary Jo Bona, author of By the Breath of Their Mouths: Narratives of Resistance in Italian America (SUNY Press, 2010), examines the liberating powers of speech in Italian-American writing, with specific emphasis on the ways in which narratives of mortality function as gestures of continuity. That Italian Americans die in literature is as important as how they die. Italian immigrants were subject to the degradations of nativism, poverty, and untimely deaths, inspiring writers of Italian America to illuminate the New-World status of Italian immigrants by fulsomely portraying their suffering and dying, and by re-imagining those who mourned those deaths. Stories of death—inclusive of deathbed scenes, widows’ lamentations, and textual endings—illuminate operative ways in which United States writers of Italian America explore bereavement and insist on their ancestors’ New-World status and humanity through dying. Like Persephone returning, these authors portray death as a story of continuity, a story about how things change, but do not end.