Cesare Pavese was born to parents Eugenio and Consolina Pavese in 1908, at their family vacation spot in the Piedmont region of Italy. The family, which included an older daughter, lived in Turin. His father worked as a bailiff in the court system. When Cesare was six years old, his father died. He started writing poetry while still in secondary school. In 1923, Pavese entered the Liceo Massimo d’Azeglio to complete his high school studies. Agusto Monti became his teacher and mentor. In 1926, Pavese entered the University of Turin. It was here that he began his lifelong interest in American literature. He did his thesis work on Walt Whitman, getting a degree from the university in 1930. His mother died the same year. He also started work on a cycle on poems that would become part of Hard Labor.
To help support himself during his postgraduate years, Pavese translated Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851), as well as works by James Joyce, John Dos Passos, and Sherwood Anderson. Pavese also joined anti-Fascist groups; in 1935, he was arrested for holding letters of a jailed anti-Fascist which he received from his girlfriend Tina Pizzardo, who was a member of the Communist Party. Pavese served seven months of a three-year sentence under house arrest and in exile.
His first book, Hard Labor, was published in 1936, but censors reduced the number of poems by four. Pavese would later publish this volume in a much larger edition. After his arrest, Pavese continued to write but stopped publishing for some time. His friend Guilio Einaudi restored a publishing company, and Pavese worked for and published most of his works with this publishing house. In 1941 and 1942, Pavese published two novels, as well as a translation of William Faulkner’s The Hamlet. He left Turin in 1943, when the city fell under Nazi control. After the war, he returned to Turin and joined the Communist Party. After the war, Pavese published three books, Feria d’agosto (1946; Summer Storm and Other Stories, 1966), La terra e la morte, and Dialogues with Leucò, which is considered one of his masterpieces. In 1949, Pavese met and fell in love with the American actress Constance Dowling. Their affair lasted a year. Pavese was known as a troubled person. He seemed to embody the modern existentialist despair of his day. In August of 1950, despondent over a broken love affair, Pavese killed himself with an overdose of sleeping pills.