The Value of Worthless Lives: Writing Italian-American Immigrant Autobiographies

Ilaria Serra, Florida Atlantic University

“Immigrants left behind sweat and tears, but no memories,” wrote the Italian scholar Giuseppe Prezzolini, in his search for first-person accounts of Italian immigration to the United States. He found none. Yet immigrants, even if barely literate, did in fact record their lives in autobiographies that have long been overlooked and ignored. Written in school notebooks or published at the writer’s expense, these testimonies are neither literature nor history, but intriguing tales of real life filled with immigrant pathos. After scavenging archives and private houses, Ilaria Serra has gathered these works in her book The Value of Worthless Lives (Fordham University Press, 2007), and offers a theoretical analysis of the narration of these unorthodox writers who survived history.