Biography of Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino is an Italian journalist and novelist known as one of the greatest Italian fiction authors of the 20th century.

Calvino was born in Santiago de las Vegas, Cuba in 1923 to an Italian father and Sardinian mother. Calvino's parents were both well-respected botanists. When Calvino was two, his parents moved the family back to Sanremo, Italy. Calvino attended school in Sanremo and began studying at the University of Turin at age 18. Calvino studied in an agriculture program, following in his parents' footsteps, but secretly was interested in literature, especially anti-Fascist literature. When World War II began, Calvino transferred from the University of Turin to the University of Florence. However, in 1943, due to the German occupation of Italy, Calvino was forced to halt his studies and either join the military service or go into hiding. He chose to go into hiding for a few months, until his mother convinced Italo and his brother Floriano to join the Italian Resistance. Calvino joined a Communist group called the Garibaldi Brigades, and lived and fought in the Maritime Alps until the end of the war in 1945.

Calvino returned to Turin in 1945 and began openly studying literature. He joined the Communist Party; while he completed his degree, he wrote and edited for Communist and left-wing magazines. Calvino graduated in 1947 and published his first novel, Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno (The Path to the Nest of Spiders), in the same year. The novel centered on his experiences in World War II. In the following decade, Calvino worked as a journalist and editor for the left-wing magazine Il Menabò di Letteratura while producing novels and collections of short stories. His short stories were well-regarded, while the novels were less successful.

Calvino's life began to shift in the late 1950's. He had an affair from 1955 to 1958 with an older Italian actress named Elsa De Giorgi. In 1957, Calvino left the Communist Party following the Soviet invasion of Hungary, which Calvino did not agree with. Calvino's literary works turned from realism and stories of war to satire and fantasy. The author visited the United States in 1959 and was particularly taken by New York. Calvino moved to Paris in 1960, where he met Argentinian translator Esther Judith "Chichita" Singer, whom he married in 1964. Calvino also met the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara during this period.

Calvino and his wife returned to Italy and settled in Rome. They had a daughter, Giovanna, in 1965. Calvino continued to publish fantastical short stories in literary magazines, but he hit a period of literary stasis following the death of Italian writer Elio Vittorini. However, he continued resumed writing fantasy novels in the 1970's, producing some of his most famous works, including Le città invisibili (Invisible Cities), Il castello dei destini incrociate (The Castle of Crossed Destinies), and Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore (If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler). These works were revolutionary in their narration and structure.

By Calvino's death at age 61 in 1985, the prolific author had published over 40 novels, short story collections, essays, autobiographical works, libretti, and translations. He received many prestigious awards throughout his literary career, including the Feltrinelli Prize, the Austrian State Prize for European Literature, the Legion of Honour, and the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award. Calvino is also one of the most translated Italian authors.

Study Guides on Works by Italo Calvino

Experimental novelist Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities was published in 1972 as a series of “overhead conversations” between Kublai Kahn, Notorious Mongol Emperor and Marco Polo, noted explorer. Although categorized as a novel, that description...