Italo Calvino: Biography, Books & Short Stories

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

Italo Calvino is one of the most important Italian fiction writers of the twentieth century. His role in the Italian resistance played a role in his writing, and he is well known for his tales of fantasy.

Italo Calvino
Italo Calvino

A Strong Voice at an Early Age

Calvino was born in Cuba in 1923, but he spent his early years with his Italian born parents on the Italian Rivera. He remained there through his early twenties. He left the comfort of his parents' home to raise his voice against the forces bearing down on Europe.

As an impressionable young man in his twenties, Italo Calvino dropped out of college and joined the partisans of the Italian resistance to be a voice against the Nazis. He was a political force who joined the Communist Party after the war, but left when he became disenchanted with their cause.

Once the war was over, Calvino continued his education at the University of Turin, where he completed his degree. After school, he moved to Turin where he worked as a member of the editorial staff for Giulio Einaudi, a publishing firm. In 1947, the stories based on his experiences during the war became a book, The Path to the Nest of Spiders. His second book was a collection of stories, Adam, One Afternoon, and Other Stories, which was available in 1949. Calvino worked with Giulio Einaudi publishing house for the duration of his publishing career.

A Shift in his Work

By the 1950's, there was a distinct shift in Calvino's work. He tired of politics and turned to fantasy. His work was wildly popular and he received notoriety for these tales. The first of these tales, The Cloven Viscont is a story of a man with good and evil sides who is made whole by the love of a woman. His most well received fantasy, The Barron in the Trees, was published in 1957. It is the story of a man who lives in the trees, never to walk on the ground again. While he does not leave the trees, he is still able to participate in the world below. The third book in his fantasy series was published in 1959. The Nonexistent Knight takes a satirical look at a tale of chivalry.

In 1956, Calvino gained tremendous recognition for his collection Italian Folktales. This collection offered two hundred stories from all the regions of Italy and was considered to be a national collection. Because of this work, he was catapulted into the limelight and seen as a major player in the literary field. While Calvino was seen as an imaginative storyteller, he was also known as an innovator of fictional form. He was fond of pushing the boundaries of accepted form and the people loved him for it.

He continued to write and publish and moved to Paris in the early 1960's. In 1964, he met and married Chichita Singer. After his marriage, he brought out titles such as, Cosmicomics in 1968, and Invisible Cities in 1972, which is a novel filled with tales of cities visited by Marco Polo as told to Kubla Khan. It is filled with lyrical prose and incredible scenery.

During the 1970's Calvino joined 'the workshop for potential literature,' a group where scholars met to discuss and discover new possibilities in modern fiction. Calvino wanted his writing to go beyond the limits of accepted fiction, and he worked to change the form of fiction throughout his career. During this time, he and Chichita had a daughter named Giovana.

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