of Pieve Santo Stefano
by Saverio Tutino*
Pieve Santo Stefano is a town in Tuscany which borders on Umbria and Romagna. For seventeen years, in each of the four entries of the town, there has been a big yellow sign-board, together with the official toponomy, where is written “The Town of the Diary”. Infact, in the townhall of Pieve Santo Stefano, there are public archives where autobiographic writings are gathered up. These texts are written by common people. There are diaries, letters, memoirs of one's own existence which show everybody's life and also Italian history. Pieve Santo Stefano, a little village in the Tuscan and Emilian Apennines, was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War. The townhall, with its “L” shape, like an open book on a reading desk, and with its armorial bearings, was one of the few buildings which was not destroyed. Forty years after the war, a “house of memory” rose in one of the wings of the townhall. It is a public centre which keeps personal memoirs about one's own life. Also some foreign scholars have been interested in this enterprise. The Archives not only keep, like a museum, popular writings; they also improve their richness in different ways. First, we defined the Archives “the bank of memory”. Now, we call them “nursery”, because the Archives make the past writings revive, as sprouts which spring up in every season. So, new interests in autobiographic writings continuosly rise. First of all, we thought about a prize to increase the number of the texts. We published in some newspapers brief advertisements; a weekly magazine interviewed the director of the Archives. In few weeks, more than hundred texts and collections of letters were sent to the Archives.
The Culture of the Personal Experience
Then, we gathered two groups of readers. One of them was formed by the people on the spot: teachers and attendants, clerks and students, a veterinary, an engineer, a trader and some housewives. The other group was formed by experienced people: the writers Natalia Ginzburg, Luigi Santucci, Corrado Stajano, the historian Paolo Spriano, the sociologist Vittorio Dini, the poetess Vivian Lamarque, Folena, who is one of the most important Italian linguists, scholars, politicians, journalists: Giorgio Galli, Nazareno Fabbretti, Miriam Mafai, Nicola Tranfaglia, Maria Rita Parsi, Pietro Clemente, Mario Isnenghi, Maurizio Maggiani, Dacia Maraini, Beppe Del Colle, Rosetta Loy, Tina Anselmi, Roberta Marchetti, Saverio Tutino.The two groups alternately read the texts for giving a prize to one of them, for pointing out some of the other writings, for cataloguing all them. So, year by year, many texts about personal experience have been stressed by the readers.The two groups of readers pointed out the letters of a young portress from Bologna. In her letters, sent to her family, she told about the problems of her lost youth. The readers liked the Milanese countess's old-fashioned letters. She wrote to her lover, a soldier, in the XIX century. Also an architect's memoirs were emphasized by the readers for their social value. This architect, who lived in Rome, was one of the victims of a terroristic attempt in the seventies. The readers liked the memoirs of an unknown and naif writer, who described his work in a mine and his amorous adventures; the Venetian farmer's account and his poetic and ungrammatically style; the deep sorrow of a girl who wrote to her mother, from the community for drug- addicted people in San Patrignano, before her suicide; the autobiography of a Sicilian farmer who emigrated to the United States; the memoirs of a bricklayer from the south of Italy; the text of a depressed woman from Arezzo; the story of a robber from Rome and the writing of a poor farmer who lived in Arezzo.From 1985 to 2000, about 15 authors were awarded money and the publication of their texts, in different publishing houses. Besides, many other diaries were printed and propagated by means of of occasional sponsors' or private people's money contributions. In 1991, the publishing house Giunti published about 20 texts kept in the Archives. From 1995 to 1999, Baldini e Castoldi did the same. Since 1999, Mursia has become the publisher of the prize-winners texts. In 1999, the jury of readers gave a prize to a hard writing. It was written by a young woman from Sardinia, who was ill-treated by her family and her husband. In her memoirs, she wrote up the violence and the privations she suffered. Many publishers refused to print this text. At the end, it was printed by a little publishing house from Rome, Malatempora.
Every Diary is an Event
We have spread the idea that also some personal documents, not connected with market interests, are a new genre of not learned literature (or maybe a “semi-learned” literature). Without doubts, this is a lively cultural genrewhich is fit for the age we live in. In the meanwhile, students, journalists, writers, scenarists, have come to the Archives and have consulted the texts. When the diaries are collated, we often find parallelisms and convergences. Sometime, we assist to a kind of meeting among the past events which are told in the texts. The micro-history we find in our writings emphasizes every aspect of life, even if some texts were originally written for different aims. Besides, around the Archives, which are sources of memory, an attention to old relationships and new friendships revives. It seems that people, whose memoirs are written on the paper, have the possibility of talking over their past loneliness and of communicating with the world in a new real atmosphere.Philippe Lejeune, the author of “Le Pact Autobiographique”, agrees with us in using the word “magic” to explain the combination between the poetics of the past and the scientific study of all autobiographic stories. Lejeune says that “The autobiographic texts must not considered to be interesting and meaningful documents which are useful only to the study of past events”.For this reason, we thought right to place the texts at public's disposal and to confront them, in order to make the personal documents revive. We had an intuition like Lejeune. We wondered how it was possible to localize “All the anonymous texts which were passed unnoticed by some local institutions and had survived the loss and the material destruction. The aim was to avoid that one day or another these texts were forgotten by the very authors and by the author's descendants”. Since when we have founded the Archives, the authors give us their diaries to read them and to keep them after their death.One day, a eighty years old woman, who gave her diary to the Archives of Pieve Santo Stefano, said: “I would like that at least a person read my memoirs. Otherwise, I would pass over my life in silence and nobody would notice my presence, because I have not a husband nor children. I would have lived without leaving a little trace”.So, little by little, with our solicitations to send us the texts and with the author's solicitations to read them, we have kept 7500 different autobiographic writings: memoirs, diaries and collections of letters.
The Need to Be Read
We think we have achieved our aim. We wanted to awake interest in this literature of life. We think we have succeeded. We have founded a kind of new democratic power which makes possible that some people read the personal writings of other people. Every power, at least at the beginning, corresponds to a need of society. But, not always many people's need corresponds to a power. Undoubtedly, the Archives of Pieve Santo Stefano have established an institution which about 300 people, who keep a diary or have some old diaries, apply to.
Statistics show that 65% of Italian people write something: stories about their lives or letters and diaries. 20% of Italian writing people keep a journal. About 7% of Italians at Pieve Santo Stefano find the answer to their need to be read in an institution which has been established for this purpose. According to psychologists, people who read personal writings are the author's ideal ego. Today our Archives are like a lively and active cultural association. Differently from many other archives, they are not like a growing-old museum. Besides, the Archives are an association without commercial aims, supported above all by volunteers. All the people, who give their own diaries to the Archives, obtain a new power they had not before. For the first time, they have a new social liberty and the satisfaction of a real and primary need, that is to preserve their identity after their death. All this is possible only with the authors' requests for keeping their diaries in the Archives; money is not required. So, the Archives are partly a “cultural service”. Essentially, the Archives must increase the cultural value of each personal writing. Besides, they engage themselves to point out people's dignity in any kind of approach to these documents. Without a written trace, people's memory remains without voice; but, when this trace exists, we must keep and protect it.
Our Archives display energy to find, keep and spread the autobiographical writings.
By the recent information means, the Archives continuosly reflect the peculiarities of the different aspects of social life. According to C. G. Jung, our ego is the result of the past culture. The Archives try to realize Jung's idea with a little, real experiment.
The Archives reflect today's human conscience. People, who want to leave a trace of their own existence, are looking for a refuge; the Archives of Pieve Santo Stefano are a little refuge for them. People is not satisfied with knowing that everything outlives us, in the armony of the things and in the social understanding. We try to find a way to keep people's personal experience and to spread their testimonies. For this reason, the cultural centre of the Archives of Pieve Santo Stefano was founded and it has been working for seventeen years.
The Day of the Diary
Now, people who keep a journal know that there is a new way of nourishing their necessity of identity and of living together with this necessity, in a society where “others” are not much loved. Our authors were looking for at least a reader. They found about 60 readers, who change every year, in Pieve Santo Stefano and in the outskirts of Pieve. These readers are the members of the commision who choose the texts. There are also other readers, who are not part of the commision; they give their advices about the texts. Besides, there are the 13 members of the jury, always made by experienced people, who read the 10 diaries choosen by the local commision. There are also the students who consult the texts of the Archives for their graduation thesis; the journalists who take our stories as a starting point; the scenarist who are looking for ideas and characters.
The annual demonstration “Memoirs in town” takes place at the beginning of september. Every year, by this demonstration, we confirm the specific value of a subject that in Italy has obtained the importance of a literary genre only in the latest years. Besides, we point out the documentary value that historians give to the objective testimonies of a recent anthropology. Authors'visit to the Archives is the centre of the demonstration.
In the room of the town council there is an exhibition of the rarest diaries and of the original manuscripts that people have sent to the Archives during the year.
On the eve of the awarding of prizes, there is a meeting between the popular members of the local commision and the national jury. They talk over the criteria of reading autobiographic texts.
The day of the awarding of prizes, in the morning, the authors and the popular readers meet. It is a direct comparison between some authors of autobiographic memoirs and their “first readers”. This is one of the specific functions of the public recording of the personal testimonies, living out of consideration the possibility of a publication of some texts.
In the latest years, the annual festival of autobiography has become also the occasion for meeting the members of the other archives which have been founded in some European countries with purposes similar to ours. In Ambérieu, near Lyon, in Emmendingen, not far from Freiburg, in Germany, in La Roca del Vallès in Catalonia and in Kärsämäki in Finland, institutes for the study and the utilization of autobiographies have been founded. Other archives of diaries and personal memoirs, which have been established to keep specific testimonies about historical and social events in Poland, Austria, Sweden, England, are now gathered together with Pieve Santo Stefano in the European Association for the Autobiography.
How it was expected, this new cultural tendency is spreading. So, the Archives of Pieve are preparing themselves for a future work, that will be richer and richer of ramifications. Since 1998, the Archives have published a review, “Primapersona”. “Primapersona” deals with the general discussion about autobiography and with the diaries kept in the Archives of Pieve. In 1998, the scientific commision of the Archives, chaired by Pietro Clemente, organized an Europen meeting about the autobiographic women's writings. In july 1999, the “Libera Università dell'Autobiografia” was founded on the initiative of the University of Milan, in the town of Anghiari, near Pieve Santo Stefano. Professor Duccio Demetrio runs the courses of this university and Italian university teachers teach there.
* The journalist and writer Saverio Tutino has conceived and founded the Archives of Pieve Santo Stefano and the "Libera Università dell'Autobiografia" in Anghiari. He is also the president of the Premio Pieve –Banca Toscana and the cultural director of the Archives and of the review "Prima Persona".
translated by Lucia Franchi
The Foundation “Archivio Diaristico Nazionale” keeps memoirs, journals, autobiographies and letters, all written in Italian. The Archives keeps also texts written in other languages, but the authors or the owners of the writings have to translate them in Italian, according to the regulations of the Premio Pieve.
People interested in autobiography can also apply to the other institutions and associations linked with the Foundation of Pieve Santo Stefano:
France, Ambérieu en Bugey
Association pour l'Autobiographie
Spain, La Roca del Vallés
Arxiu de la memorìa popular
Académie pour l'autobiographie et l'art populaire