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Glendon’s Michael Ondaatje Reading Series Welcomes Nino Ricci


Italian-Canadian author Nino Ricci came to read from his work at Glendon on March 2nd, concluding the 2009 – 2010 season of the Michael Ondaatje Reading Series. Ricci is in fact a York alumnus, having earned a BA in English literature in 1981. 

Right: Nino Ricci at Glendon (Photo courtesy of Brian Desrosiers-Tam)

Born in 1959 at Leamington, Ontario, Ricci showed clipped images of his childhood: family-owned greenhouses filled with hothouse tomatoes; the speaking “dialect” - the language of his parents’ home region in Molise, Italy; and the sense of marginalization he experienced as part of an immigrant family in Canada. Ricci went on to study in Toronto, Montreal and Florence, Italy.

Ricci’s Italian heritage and language are particularly prominent in his first – and still most popular – novel, Lives of the Saints, the first of a trilogy. This book tells the story of Vittorio, a young boy living in and eventually leaving his home of Valle del Sole, a village cached in the mountainous region of Italy. The narrative voice of Vittorio is all at once mature and childlike – experienced, yet defiantly innocent – as he explores the bonds and boundaries of family and community, of faith and superstition. The other two books in the trilogy are In a Glass House (McClelland and Stewart 1998) and Where She Has Gone (McClelland and Stewart 1999).

(Photo courtesy of Brian Desrosiers-Tam)

Before reading from his latest work, Ricci related how the idea for this piece was sparked during his undergraduate studies at York, by a course examining thinkers who questioned and adapted ideas of human morality called “Men, Morals and Markets.”

Equally influential was Ricci’s reading of The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins. Ricci shared how this book challenged his personal views on religion and morality, and lead him to delve deeper into theories of evolution and human nature.

Thus, a thought-provoking class and an opinion-altering read, together with a powerful friendship and an ample supply of Canadian experiences, gathered at the back of the author’s mind to divide and multiply and evolve… into a novel named for Darwin’s controversial publication, The Origin of Species, published in hardcover by Doubleday in 2008.

Right: On the left, reporter and Glendon student Marijke Vander Klok with Nino Ricci (Photo courtesy of Brian Desrosiers-Tam)

Ricci’s reading introduced his protagonist, Alex Fratarcangeli, a graduate student at Concordia University, who searches for meaning amidst the often disheartening realities of life. Trekking in Darwin’s footsteps through the Galapagos Islands, Alex finds unlikely, intrinsic connections in everyday human relations - seated all the while in imaginary interviews with CBC’s famed Peter Gzowsky. Alex’s character is sincere, poignant and humorous, creating an eager readership for Ricci’s most recent book.

Ricci spoke of writing, not with an ideology in his head, but having a story to share. He works towards a final scene or at least an emotional endpoint for his protagonists, but allows room for the flow of inspiration and influence to saturate his stories. “The best characters are those who simply open the door and walk in, fully formed”, said Ricci.

Left: Nino Ricci with Ann Hutchison, Chair of Glendon's English Department (Photo courtesy of Brian Desrosiers-Tam)

Ricci has twice been awarded the Governor General’s Award for Fiction – for Lives of the Saints (1990) and The Origin of Species (2008). His novel, Testament also won the 2002 Trillium Book Award.

About the Michael Ondaatje Reading Series at Glendon

The Michael Ondaatje Reading Series is under the sponsorship of internationally acclaimed writer Michael Ondaatje, who taught English literature for a number of years at Glendon, as well as under the sponsorship of Glendon’s English Department. The series presents contemporary Canadian writers and poets who read from their recent works and discuss the writing process as they experience it.

Article submitted by Glendon student Marijke Vander Klok

Published on March 9, 2010