Discordia was published in 2012, but it seems to perfectly fit my thoughts of the last 4 years, which are just coalescing now into one organic entity, over what kind of storytelling I wish to produce and cultivate and foster in others if I can. For someone who grew up – very luckily – immersed in fiction and poetry (written especially by men), and grew amongst journalists to almost detest what was left of journalism, I now realise I was fighting my way towards that mutant, incredibly adaptable and difficult form which was called “new journalism” in the 70s and today may be called literary journalism, or creative nonfiction if set to include memoir, travel writing, immersion reportage and the personal essay – a form which is (for very specific reasons) just as popular in the US as it is rare in my country, Italy, to the point where we don’t recognise it when we produce it (Gomorra, by Roberto Saviano, is no doubt creative nonfiction, or narrative journalism, but we don’t call it that way). It is especially funny, then, that Norman Sims reminds us that nobody could ever give a perfect description of narrative journalism, but also that you know it when you see it.
It is very hard, much harder than I thought, to leave a wonderful job, a non-conformist family of colleagues, and a radio station where I worked every day for most of my adult life. It is hard to choose uncertainty over certainty. But if I want to be an agent of change, I need to trust change and accept some discomfort.
In the last few years – parallel to the unforeseen, revolutionary disruption of my work and my imagination that was sparked by the use of social media curation to crowdsource and tell stories and interact with readers and radio listeners – I got to read all the masterpieces of creative nonfiction, and those books are now the staples of the bibliography for my postgraduates students at Scuola Holden. And it is while teaching them that everything in me that was compartmentalised came undone. And then, everything came together: I found the likeminded souls I needed to explore this path, I developed new responsibilities, I studied new languages, I was back to learning something new everyday, I was newly a teacher. I had this mutant genre that seemed to me to tell the complex stories of reality better than fiction or pure journalism had ever done; and these stories, incidentally, were often written by women. It was just like before that, everything in my development as an author and radio personality was lucky and sparkling, but also scattered and shapeless, and now it took the shape I had always been longing for. This discovery was even defining my books: I had always struggled to define them. Looking back, I know what I have written. I know what I write, and what I must write in the future.
In the introduction to Discordia, before they leave for Athens, Paul Mason introduces Laurie Penny and Molly Crabapple to a kind of journalism which they, basically, already practice (and he knows): the deep immersion, the declared subjectivity, the multimedia journaling, the informal, unorthodox point of view. But what Paul Mason is giving them, really, is something that we all need to know from time to time: that some excellence in the past has already worked in that mould we seem to have fallen into; that we can learn from masters and walk in their footsteps; that we too – in 2012, as the cradle of democracy crumbles under poverty, fear and fascism, and the squares from Turkey to the US to Brasil are occupied one after the other quick as a match – we too can improve on a tradition, and carry it forward, and adapt the tools that were carved before us into something that is useful today.
Also, in studying digital journalism closely, I have witnessed the rise of the precious, yet vaguely fashionable investment in data journalism, as it could fix or explain – thanks to the new magic tools we can spin them with – the complexity of reality through facts and figures. What we know is that we are going to have more and more facts and figures; but humans don’t learn from mere facts – we learn from connecting the dots, from the subjectivity of personal narrations, from juxtaposition, from the texture of full storytelling, from putting our bodies and beliefs and memories and ethics out there to be challenged.
So, not only I have found my way, which is what I want to put into service in this blog which will become my whole house – my small personal but whole house for written works, books, photography, creations, reviews, lists, music, spoken word, writing in residence, activism and maps – but I am also grateful to Laurie Penny and Molly Crapapple for stretching their courage and wholeheartedly fulfilling a kind of reportage that doesn’t exactly fit with just the mere facts. I am grateful to them for reminding me that telling stories is necessary, first and foremost for the storytellers. I am grateful to them for reminding me that stories dwell in our bodies as much as in our minds. I am grateful to them for reminding me that you can stick to the facts but acknowledge subjectivity and political feeling openly, honestly, and in the process gather more truth than with just-the-facts. For reminding me that reportage can be art.
In many ways, I am starting this with you guys. I trust change. I hope you do too.
Milano, Sept 30th, 2014