Photo © Deborah Lopez.
Maria Laurino is the author of The Italian Americans: A History, the companion book to a forthcoming PBS documentary series, as well as the memoirs, Old World Daughter, New World Mother, a meditation on contemporary feminism, and the national bestseller, Were You Always an Italian?, an exploration of ethnic identity.
Laurino began her career as a staff writer at the Village Voice. She left the Voice to serve as the chief speechwriter to former New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins.
Laurino’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, Salon.com, and numerous publications. Her essays have been widely anthologized, including in the Norton Reader. In addition to writing books, Laurino continues her work as a speechwriter, serving as Assistant to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and she teaches creative nonfiction in the undergraduate writing program at New York University. Laurino is a graduate of Georgetown University, where she double majored in English and Government; she holds an M.A. from New York University in English and American literature. She lives in New York City with her husband and son.
What are you reading? What's on your nightstand?
A combination of new and not-so-new books: Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in my Mind, Rachel Cusk’s Outline, Stacy Schiff’s Vera, the letters of Italo Calvino, and The Story of the Lost Child, the final book of Elena Ferrante's four-part Neapolitan series.
Where do you go to get inspired?
When I can, I like to go to an afternoon movie. I’m not sure how productive it is, but I tell myself I’m learning about narrative structure.
What's something that surprised you recently (in a good way)?
That my students sometimes listen to me.
Where do you write?
In a collective space called the Writers Room. It’s a five-minute walk from where I live and desks are available on a first-come basis. If I get up early enough, I can have a desk with a great view of the Empire State Building.
What/who makes you laugh? Why?
My husband and my son -- they are the funniest people I know and we share a similar view of the world. Writers who make me laugh out loud are David Sedaris and Sherman Alexie -- Sedaris for his slant view and Alexie because he manages to make you laugh about the most painful things.
Favorite fictional character ever?
The Wife of Bath. I once checked to see if her astrological sign matched my own.
What are you working on?
Too soon to talk about!
"Laurino (Were You Always Italian?) uses in-depth research to focus on individual stories to tell the Italian-American story. Some spotlighted stories are well known, like those about anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia, and Frank Sinatra. But the more obscure tales have more impact, like those about Angela Bambace, one of the first union leaders, and A.P. Giannini, a banker who tried to help improve the lives of immigrants. Laurino wonderfully captures the history of Italians in America."
"Laurino deftly tells her story, while succinctly expressing a feminist's perspective on motherhood and explaining how much further we have to go as a country in order to honor every woman's work."
"Along the way, she raises essential identity issues: Is there a healthy side to dependency? Why does this nation of immigrants overglorify rugged individualism and freedom? Does feminism fail mothers and children? Sure to spark discussion."