Dan Fante tells about himself at the University

il Centro
Cultura & Società
1 november 2001

"I write in the tradition of my grandfather's Abruzzese tales"
by Paolo Di Vincenzo

"Kafka used to say that reading a good novel must be like being hit on the head. That's what I am also trying to do in my works". Dan Fante, the author of "Chump Change" and "Mooch", the son of novelist John Fante, was a guest yesterday at the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures in the D'Annunzio University, Pescara. Next to the writer, who will be up to this Sunday in Abruzzo, "his own" Abruzzo, as he likes to say, there were Professor of Anglo-American literature Annalisa Goldoni, and department Director, Andrea Mariani. Fante was invited by cultural association La Pergamena virtuale and was in the company also of his Italian agent Anna Battista.

"This is not a lecture, but a conversation", explained Annalisa Goldoni. And the encounter with the students turned out as a friendly discussion on literary themes, on John Fante's works, and Dan's recent book of poems, published so far only in Britain, "A gin pissing raw meat dual carburatter V8 son of a bitch from Los Angeles", and on his third work with hero Bruno Dante, "Spitting off tall buildings".

Fante read some of the poems from the collection, among them To Mark a Katie, 17 october 1993, Camogli. "I wrote this poem while in Italy to promote my second book (Editor's Note: "Mooch", translated by Marcos y Marcos as "Agganci"). I did not have a typewriter or a computer at the time. Since I started to write, I have followed a strict self-discipline: I write six days a week, always. At the time I did not know how to write a novel or story just with a pen, so I took again writing poems, for the first time after 10 years".

After that Dan Fante read a passage from "Chump change" ( "Angeli a pezzi" in Italian) with a short introduction on his family. "The hero of many of my father's novels is Arturo Bandini, my hero is Bruno Dante. Though my grandfather was not a very educated person, he was so good at telling stories. I think this is a typical Abruzzese gift, and he would tell my father stories of highwaymen and brigands. My father used to listen to these stories when he was a child. This story-telling attitude is almost gone now in America. And that is why I chose this name, to continue the tradition".

Then Fante explained the plot of the book, which, according to the family style, is greatly autobiographical. Bruno Dante, a would-be writer, goes to visit his father Jonathan Dante, a writer, on the latter's deathbed. Bruno finds his father's dog in the house at Point Dume (where the Fantes actually lived, in a Y-shaped house in Malibu, and where Dan's mother, Joyce Smart, is still living). The dog is a refrain in John Fante's novels and another link to real life: John was fond of dogs, especially pit bulls. Bruno Dante meets this dog, and it is hate at first sight for both. But realizing how important the dog is to his father, he takes it to the latter's deathbed, against the will of physicians and family.

"When my father died in 1983", the writer explains, "I went down to the garage, there was a packet of printing paper which he had been using to write his last novel (John Fante died in 1983, at the age of 74, blind and with no legs in consequence of diabetes diagnosed in 1955). I started to write with that very paper. It was a hard moment in my life, I was not able to understand at the time why my life was taking such a bad direction. Later on, I realized I was making room to my new activity as a writer. When I started writing "Mooch" I threw away about sixty pages. It is the characters that tell you how and what to write, and I realized that I was wrong on all fronts. And now, this is how I write, one page at the time, unaware of where the story is going. Just the opposite of my father, who wrote chapter by chapter".

Among the questions of the students and professors, also some on how he learned his writer's job: "i learned to write", Dan Fante replied, "by simply reading and going to the theater. I did not even study literature, but I was utterly fascinated by language. I think that presently the problem with poetry and language in the United States of America is that people do not read enough. Even pop songs lack structure since lyrics writers do not read enough". Today and tomorrow Dan Fante will be in Torricella Peligna, the little town which his grandfather Nick left in 1901 for the United States.