Back Issue__ Italian Stallion: Viola Di Grado
Viola Di Grado is a literary Italian stallion
When Viola Di Grado was 23, she published a novel. A really good novel called 70% Acrylic, 30% Wool that was shortlisted for the Strega Prize, Italy's top literary prize, and translated from Italian into eight different languages. It's two years later and she just published her second novel, Cuore Cavo.
Viola's writing is bold, visceral and bittersweet. The stories she tells are whimsically dark, not unlike Viola's personal style. The Italian writer isn't afraid to paint her lips black and get a little Harajuku with her accessories. She accepts awards and gives readings in black lace gloves and ornamental hair fasteners. When we spoke to Viola, she admitted that a part of her enjoys the attention. In many ways, it comes with the territory of writing a novel.
She explained the dichotomy of private writing that becomes enormously public when it's published. "When I write, I don't really know what's happening," she said. "I feel like some sort of shaman waiting for voices and stories to show up. It's like being in a small room surrounded by so many objects and trying to move them around."
She finds it exciting that other people can peer into her world by reading her book. "I'm an exhibitionist," she explained. "You know something really strange? It's starting to happen in reality as well. There are two men living in the building opposite mine and they watch me writing during the day. Now, they started communicating with me through pieces of paper, writing messages. They wrote, 'Shall we have a coffee together?" Once, they saw me packing my luggage and wrote, 'Have a nice trip.'"
Viola splits her time between London and Rome. She describes London as overstimulating and aggressive, like having electroshocks all the time. That electroshock feeling is what she likes about London, but she returns to Rome because it's "slow and bright and very warm." In Rome, she writes often in bars and cafes because she "needs to see things and people--I hate silence." This practice warrants more strange looks. "It's not part of our culture," she explains. "Writers don't write in public places."
When she gets writer's block, she gets drunk and writes poems. Viola hasn't published any poetry, but a book of poems might be in the works one day. "Creativity is about inventing something new and destroying what's behind it. That's what I want to do. It's a kind of destruction."
There's undoubtedly an academic background for Viola's work. Studying Chinese at the University of Leeds was a huge inspiration for 70% Acrylic, 30% Wool. The protagonist, who also studies Chinese in Leeds, uses ideograms as part of her invented language.
Viola's mother is a journalist and her father is an Italian literature professor, which seems like a fertile breeding ground for a young novelist. She also learns languages for fun and boasts an impressive list which includes Chinese, Japanese, Icelandic and Swedish. "Iceland has been isolated for such a long time and you can feel it with the language," she said. "It sounds so pure and uncontaminated. It's so beautiful."
If her readers want the authentic Viola Di Grado experience, they should follow suit and learn Italian. She laments that most of her first novel was lost in the translation. "It is very frustrating. It's like a betrayal. I feel really weird," she said. "Many word plays were not translated into English."
Viola's second novel, Cuore Cavo, is only available in Italian so we recommend you sign up for Rosetta Stone quickly. Based on the success of 70% Acrylic, 30% Wool, translations won't be too far behind. Go Viola, Go.