As a senior at the University of Iowa in the fall semester of 2001, I became involved with Iowa’s International Writing Program as a translator. The International Writing Program is, as far as I know, an entirely unique program, bringing fiction writers and poets from around the world together to form a writing community on Iowa’s campus each fall. As a component of the IWP, Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program typically teaches a Translation Workshop class, in which graduate students, typically from the Writer’s Workshop and the Nonfiction Writing Program, translate the works of the international writers into English. During the fall 2001 semester, Italian novelist Rocco Carbone traveled to Iowa City to participate in the International Writing Program (you can view a list of the 2001 IWP participating authors here). Because none of the MFA students that semester spoke or read Italian, I was recruited into the Translation Workshop to translate some of Rocco’s work.
While participating in the IWP, Rocco developed a reputation as a bit of a Bartleby, answering, literally, “I would rather not,” when asked about, for example, the attacks of 9/11 in a public forum shortly after they occurred that same semester. He also was infamous for missing classes, frequently claiming, correctly I suppose, “I’ve already been to school.” Rocco was a soccer enthusiast, and supported Reggina, the team of his home town of Reggio-Calabria in far southern Italy. Soccer games near the Iowa Memorial Union were a frequent part of the IWP writers’ lives, and one was guaranteed to be cursed in at least six languages by the end of a game (or at least I was).
Rocco earned his PhD in literature in France, and in addition to his career as a prolific novelist who published with Italy’s most prestigious literary houses, he taught literature at Rebibbia, in the women’s section of the Roman prison (one of Rome’s seven districts is also named Rebibbia). Teaching was his day job, and writing sustained him.
While in the IWP Rocco put the finishing touches on his novel The Apparition (L’apparizione), and after Lawrence Venuti offered some very, very mild praise for one of my translations while visiting the IWP, Rocco asked me to engage in a larger project, on speculation, and translate his new novel in its entirety. He was very keen on finding an American publisher, especially considering the small size of the Italian literary market.
When The Apparition was published by Mondadori in Italy in 2002 it became one of three finalists for NYU’s Zerilli-Marimò/City of Rome Prize, which is awarded every two years to an outstanding piece of fiction written in the Italian language. I completed my translation of the novel in the summer of 2002, at which point Rocco and I began querying American literary agents. The translation has yet to published, but I still hold out hopes of getting my ass in gear and getting it published for Rocco. To my knowledge, his parents hold the rights to his literary estate, including the international rights for The Apparition.
Rocco died in the summer of 2008 in a motorcyle accident in Rome. His passing was widely noted and mourned in Italian literary and cultural circles. Rocco and I had not been communicating very frequently at that time, and I learned of the his death through Facebook, when his girlfriend, who I had never met (but hope to meet this summer), reached out to me.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Rocco lately. This is in no small part because I have been thinking about the wonderful issues raised in the CFP for the upcoming Penn State Rhetoric Conference, which will provide space for a long overdue discussion of, among other things, rhetorics of translation. In the coming weeks I intend to compile a bibliography of Rocco’s works and some other relevant information about Rocco’s life and career, which I will link to through this page and site.