Table of contents

Introduction: Many Missing Stones
What Does It Mean to Be Italian?
Quando sono italiana: When I Am Italian
Waterbury, Connecticut, My Ancestral Village

Up the Farm
What Crawls around Inside Us
Housing Memory
What We Remember
Go Fish
Food, Food, Food, and Hard Work

Creature Life
My Mother's Letter to Her Sister
Hard Work and Good Food
Sunday on the Farm
My Only Irish Aunt
Minestra Means Soup
Move to America
Chiesta ca, or This One Here
After Eden
My First New York Story, 1965
200 Square Feet in the Village, or My Soluble Fortunes
My Friend Elizabeth
On Not Writing My Thesis
Italia, sempre italia

Part I. Southern Italy
The Stones of Dialect
Siamo arrivati
"That Winter Evening"
My Neapolitan Wedding

Part II. The Opposite of Southern Italy
After the Manner of Women
The Grief Estate

Visiting Our Dead
My Father's Bones
Voglio bene
Somewhere My Bill


Can a person born outside of Italy be considered Italian?


"My ancestral Italian village in America was in Waterbury Connecticut. " In this sentence, Joanna Clapps Herman raises the central question of this book: To what extent can a person born outside of Italy be considered Italian? The granddaughter of Italian immigrants who arrived in the United States in the early 1900s, Herman takes a complicated and nuanced look at the question of to whom and to which culture she ultimately belongs. Sometimes the Italian part of her identity—her Italianità—feels so aboriginal as to be inchoate, inexpressible. Sometimes it finds its expression in the rhythms of daily life. Sometimes it is embraced and enhanced; at others, it feels attenuated. "If, like me," Herman writes, "you are from one of Italy's overseas colonies, at least some of this Italianità will be in your skin, bones, and heart: other pieces have to be understood, considered, called to ourselves through study, travel, reading. Some of it is just longing. How do we know which pieces are which?"

Joanna Clapps Herman is the author of The Anarchist Bastard: Growing Up Italian in America and No Longer and Not Yet: Stories, both published by SUNY Press. She is also the coeditor (with Carol Bonomo Albright) of Wild Dreams: The Best of Italian Americana and (with Lee Gutkind) Our Roots Are Deep with Passion: Creative Nonfiction Collects New Essays by Italian-American Writers. She lives in New York City.


"In When I Am Italian, Joanna Clapps Herman asks, 'Can a person born outside of Italy be Italian?' In this collection of wonderfully evocative essays, Herman illuminates the complexities of identity as she takes the reader on her life's journey starting with her girlhood 'up the farm' in rural Connecticut with her extended Italian family. Stops in her ancestral home in Basilicata, and Turin—'the opposite of Southern Italy'—reveal that being an American of Italian descent in Italy poses its own challenges. " — Nancy Carnevale, author of A New Language, A New World: Italian Immigrants in the United States, 1890–1945

"A beautiful book. It takes us through the decades of the last century and into this one to ask what it means to be Italian long after one generation's arrival, and to consider how deep and elemental the facts of that are. This is a subtle, moving, and original piece of work—to read it is to see the world around us differently. " — Joan Silber, author of Improvement: A Novel

"When I Am Italian, Joanna Clapps Herman's exquisite new memoir, begins with her rich, cocoonlike childhood inside an extended Italian American family in Waterbury, Connecticut. With its all-encompassing rituals of food, talk, and work, her family has transposed the rhythms of southern Italy to the new world. It's only when Herman leaves home—to escape the restrictions and claim her own life—that she realizes that this part of her identity does not necessarily reflect how the rest of America sees itself. With beauty and insight, When I Am Italian gives us Herman's fully lived understanding of the complex interweaving of culture and finding self. " — Lisa Wilde, author of Yo, Miss: A Graphic Look at High SchoolEmbroidered Stories: Interpreting Women's Domestic Needlework from the Italian Diaspora