Countries & Regions


Paola Toninato

Romani Literature in Italy: An overview

Owing to the diasporic features of the Romani-speaking community, Romani is a highly fragmented language – a factor that determines the particular features of the literary field. Romani literature is written by people of Romani heritage living across national borders and deploying a range of different languages and dialects. It encompasses a wide variety of genres, including transcriptions of oral narratives, autobiographical accounts, memoirs, novels, short stories, drama, plays and poetry collections.

Romani literature in Italy mirrors the great structural and linguistic variety of Romani literature in general. A long and established oral tradition has emerged among Sinti and Roma groups in this country, as documented by anthropologists (Dick-Zatta, 1986; Trevisan, 2005) and linguists (Sejdić and Soravia, 1978 and 1980). The academic journal Lacio Drom has published a large number of oral narratives, including tales, non-fiction and fictional stories and autobiographical texts.

Early examples of Romani written literature consist of transcriptions of oral narratives and memoirs, as in the case of the collaborative autobiographical account of Giuseppe Levakovich, Tzigari, published in 1975. Another product of the collaboration between Roma and non-Roma is the book I Kañjarija: Storia vissuta dei Rom Dasikhanè in Italia (Dragutinovic, 2000).

Over the past few decades, there has been evidence of a growing literary production among Italian Romani writers, especially among Roma from the Abruzzi (Santino Spinelli and Luigi Cirelli), Sinti (Paula Schöpf-Bloom, Vittorio Mayer Pasquale, Olimpio Cari, Gnugo de Bar, Floriano Debar and Pućo) and Slovenian-Croatian and Istrian Roma (Nada Braidic and Pamela Hudorovic, Mansueto Levacovich).

Santino Spinelli, a Rom from the Abruzzi region of Italy, is a musician, poet, teacher and essayist. Spinelli gained a degree in modern foreign …

For a number of Romani writers, poetic activity is a way to express their sense of ethnic identity. Luigi Cirelli and Mansueto Levacovich can be seen as belonging to this trend, as can several Sinti writers. Cirelli published his book Senza meta [Aimless] in 1994. His poems celebrate his ethnic roots, and one of the central themes is love in all its nuances. The main focus of Cirelli’s work, however, is the conflictual relationship between Roma and non-Roma. The poet denounces the Roma’s loss of their freedom and the attitude of indifference of the surrounding society. In this context, poetry represents the only form of communication capable of bridging a seemingly insurmountable ethnic divide.

In 1991 the Istrian Rom Mansueto Levacovich published the anthology Popolo mio dei Rom [Roma my people]. His works are the first known of their kind among Slovenian-Croatian Roma living in northern Italy. They are characterised by the harsh denunciation of the complete lack of dialogue between Roma and non-Roma, who are separated by a barrier of hatred and prejudice. Levacovich associates his work as a poet with the strong commitment to promoting Romani human and civil rights. Another politically engaged writer is Demir Mustafa (born in Skopje in 1960 and currently living in Florence), whose collection Poesie e racconti [Poems and stories] was published in 2002.

A number of Romani poets from the former Yugoslavia have published collections of their works in Italy, including Rasim Sejdić, Šemso Advić and Antun Blažević. Rasim Sejdić (1943–81), a poet and narrator belonging to the Bosnian Xoraxané group, published the collection Rasim, poeta zingaro [Rasim, A Gypsy Poet] in 1987. Sejdić’s stories (mostly stories of the dead, ghosts and vampires and fanciful tales) have been transcribed and collected by Giulio Soravia and published in the journal Lacio Drom. Šemso Advić, a poet born in Banja Luka, published his first collection of poetry (Poesie) in 1985. His next published collection, Ratvaról iló romanó/Sanguina il cuore dei Rom [The Hearts of the Roma Are Bleeding], appeared in 1993. Advić’s poetry epitomises the classic themes of Romani literature but also deals with specific historical events, such as the tragedy of war in former Yugoslavia.

The emergence of Romani women writers in Italy is highly significant. Female poets seek not only to shed light on forgotten aspects of Romani history but also to disclose individual life stories usually overshadowed by the collective experience. A case in point is the work of Paula Schöpf-Bloom. Born in Bolzano in 1953, she considers herself a member of the Sinti group and lives in northern Italy and Germany. Her poems are powerful depictions of the complex situation faced by women in Romani society and also address wider social issues affecting Sinti and Roma in general. She laments the condition of marginality and exclusion endured by her people and their lack of voice in the public sphere, as, for example, in ‘La mendicante dei sogni’ [The beggar of dreams] (1997) and ‘Voci nel vento / Draußen am Rand’ [Voices in the wind] (2008). Of particular intensity is her poem ‘Bistardi Laida’ [Forgotten Holocaust], which evokes the unspeakable events of the Holocaust:

Silence, desolation, dark night
the sky is gloomy, heavy with silence!
the mournful dirge fills the air!
From these stones, grey stones,
from every debris, from the shattered frames,
a desperation made of blood and tears rises.
My spirit gets caught up in the wire fences
And my soul clings to the bars,
prisoner in the enemy’s house!
Who am I? Nobody! Who are you? Nobody!
Sinti, who are you? Nobody! Only shadows,
fog! Fog that idle customs hold back
as prisoner of the greatest infamy
in the history of mankind!

Paula Schöpf-Bloom, 'Bistardi Laida’ [Forgotten Holocaust]

Source: Excerpt from the poem ‘Bistardi Laida’ [Forgotten Holocaust] by Paula Schöpf (1993) in a translation by Paola Toninato (2014, 104).

Schöpf, Paula. 1993. Bistardi Laida. In: Karpati, Mirella (Ed).1993. Zingari ieri e oggi. Roma: Centro Studii Zingari: 208.

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