Italo Calvino (kahl-VEE-noh) was born in Santiago de las Vegas, Cuba, near Havana, on October 15, 1923, to parents who were well into middle age. Agricultural scientists, they returned to the ancestral farm on the Italian Riviera when Calvino was two. Their intellectual openness, enlightened skepticism, and enthusiasm for scientific method deeply influenced Calvino’s later artistic development.
After a rather lonely adolescence, Calvino left San Remo to study agronomy at the University of Turin in 1941. Drafted into the national army two years later, he immediately deserted to join the Italian Resistance and fight Fascism. When World War II ended in 1945, he returned to Turin, changed his major from agronomy to English literature (his thesis was on Joseph Conrad), completed his degree, and began writing fiction. His first novel, Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno (1947, 1957, 1965; The Path to the Nest of Spiders, 1956), a realistic story about an orphan’s wartime adventures with a band of partisans, first appeared in 1947. It won the Riccione literary prize in 1947 and much critical praise. His many short stories, some of which in the collection Gli amore difficili (1970; Difficult Loves, 1984), also earned acclaim.
In his mid-twenties, Calvino took a position with the Einaudi publishing house. The staff there included novelists Elio Vittorini, Cesare Pavese, and Natalia Ginzburg—all leaders in Italy’s intellectual vanguard. They introduced Calvino to the neorealist literary movement and encouraged his increasingly active participation in politics. Under their tutelage, Calvino found the late 1940’s and the 1950’s especially productive.
Besides his editorship at Einaudi (a position he kept until his death), he directed a literary journal with Vittorini, served on the staff of Italy’s official Communist newspaper, and contributed many polemical articles to Il politecnico. He also produced an amazing amount...
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