Ombretta & Cristina
Agrigento, Valley of the Temples, Summer 2000

My love for Sicily started in the spring of 1999, in a library, Harvard’s Houghton Library, when I was a first-year graduate student.  While working on a term paper, together with a fellow graduate student, Cristina Gragnani, I started exploring the magnificent rare book and manuscript collection. It was amazing for us, coming from Italy, being able to request all kinds of rare materials without being questioned, and being able to consult them at leisure. One day, we requested the manuscript of Luigi Pirandello’s novel The Late Mattia Pascal (1904), famously kept at Harvard since the late 1960s. We were surprised to find, in the card next to the Mattia Pascal one [yes, we used the card catalog, not the electronic one], another card that simply said “Notebook and other papers”. We requested that too and were presented with a tiny little notebook, filled with Pirandello’s tidy handwriting and with some drawings. We [wrongly] assumed that it had been studied by some famous scholar and so forgot about it. But, that night and the day after, we found ourselves haunted by the notebook and decided to start our own investigation. We quickly realized that not only was the notebook unpublished, it was also unknown to most scholars. We made it our secret and over the course of six months we researched it and decided that it deserved a critical edition. We learned how to prepare a critical edition studying medieval manuscript editions; we learned how to collaborate on a completely equal level; we became friends. It was hard not to tell our fellow graduate students, it was hard not to tell our professors. But we needed to be absolutely ready so that, when we came out with our discovery, we would be taken seriously: we did so on December 8, 1999 with a talk delivered at Harvard’s Center for Humanities. We were nervous, so nervous that before the talk we went to a bar.

The following summer, we traveled to Sicily for the first time. We worked in Pirandello’s archives in Agrigento, we visited all of the places he mentioned in his notebook.
Our book, Taccuino di Harvard (The Harvard Notebook) was published in 2002, just before we finished our PhD.

This is how I fell in love with Sicily. It was through Pirandello’s Sicily that I became a scholar. It was because of Sicily and Pirandello that I started a long lasting collaboration with Cristina Gragnani, a collaboration that survived our many moves within the US and in Italy and allowed us to write another book together.
And several articles.
We finished another one just yesterday...

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