Emilio DeGrazia is a first-generation Italian-American who grew up just this side of the “wrong side” of Detroit. On the opposite side of DeGrazia’s childhood street, he described, was “a land of no return.” His side led him to decent schools and prolific career as a writer of prose and poetry. On Tuesday, January 5, DeGrazia will share some of that work.
DeGrazia will give a reading of his work at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, January 5, at the Book Shelf, 162 West Second Street. The event is part of the Winona Fine Arts Commission’s Laureate Writers Series. It is free and open to the public.
DeGrazia’s second novel, “A Canticle for Bread and Stones” (1996), follows three generations of an Italian-American family as their lives change in a neighborhood anchored by their small grocery store and the towering cathedral, in whose shadow they live. A mystery surrounds the cathedral and how its builders went “wrong,” not giving it the architectural purity and elegance it requires to live up to Old World ideals. Salvatore, the protagonist, struggles to maintain what’s best in these ideals, and eventually discovers the motive for changing the original plan of the cathedral, while his family struggles to maintain not only its identity and place in the neighborhood, but its unity. “Full of Old World folk wisdom and New World sins, this novel makes us take a good look at ourselves through the window of Italian-American culture,” wrote critic Fred Gardaphe.
DeGrazia taught English at Winona State University (WSU) from 1969 to 2002. He is an expert in British and American romantic literature and classical mythology, but many WSU students know him as a creative writing mentor. He has published numerous works of scholarship, poetry, and prose, even drama.
“I’m driven by fairly old-fashioned ideas about the writing life,” DeGrazia stated. “That one becomes a writer by discovering what one has to say –– often in the writing process; that one should genuinely want to communicate, present a vision capable of evoking passionate response; that one should serve an apprenticeship, go through an intense process of learning how structures and language make sense; that passionate vision should be happily married to expert craft; that good art clarifies and therefore enhances life, brings us to our senses through a work that is at once story, sermon and song.”