Professor Simone Brioni’s EGL 333/HUI 333 class “Italian American Experience in Literature” visited Special Collections to conduct original research using the Pietro di Donato Collection on Thursday, February 28. Students examined, evaluated, and discussed manuscripts, correspondence, artifacts, and published works that document the life and career of di Donato. Thank you to Professor Brioni and his students for a great class visit!
Born in West Hoboken, New Jersey, Pietro di Donato (1911-1992) had a limited formal education. He reached widespread popularity with his first novel Christ in Concrete (1939). The novel was inspired by the tragic death of di Donato’s father in a construction accident on Good Friday when di Donato was 12 years old. The novel was originally published as a short story by Esquire magazine but was soon after expanded into a full novel. It was later chosen for the Book of the Month Club, edging out John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which was published the same year. The book was adapted into the 1949 film Give Us This Day. Ben Barzman, who wrote the screenplay, called the novel “the first of its kind,” and The National Italian American Foundation called it “rare.” The film won awards at festivals across Europe, including the 1949 Venice Film Festival, although it was banned from the United States at the time. In 1942, di Donato spent time in a Cooperstown, New York camp as a conscientious objector during World War II. During this time he married Helen Dean. They married in 1943 and moved to East Setauket, New York. di Donato’s 1978 work on the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro, President of the Christian Democratic Party of Italy, titled Christ in Plastic, won the Overseas Press Club Award. His later novels did not attain the same level of attention as Christ in Concrete, although his 1960 novel Immigrant Saint: The Life of Mother Cabrini also became a classic.
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