(HUDSON, N.Y.) – Joseph Luzzi will read from his new book, “In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love,” at the Third Floor Gallery on Sunday, June 7, 2015, at 2pm. The free event, a presentation of Karen Schoemer, Bookseller, will include a performance of Italian music by violinist Helena Baillie and guitarist Alexander Henry. The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served and books will be available for purchase and signing.
Luzzi’s “In a Dark Wood” is a literary memoir of grief and healing that chronicles how one of the greatest works in world literature — Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” — became the lodestone for a journey out of despair in the wake of an unthinkable tragedy.
On a cold late November morning, Luzzi’s eight-and-a-half months pregnant wife, Katherine, was in a fatal car accident. Their daughter, Isabel, was born by C-section, just forty-five minutes before her mother died on the operating table. Suddenly a widower and a single father to an infant, Luzzi saw life turned upside down by this new unexpected reality, one of intense grief and loneliness.
With great candor, Luzzi writes about the days and months that followed. The product of a big-hearted, Italian immigrant family, he had distanced himself from his working class roots as he embraced a cultured career in academia. Yet, in the painful aftermath of Katherine’s death, Luzzi was compelled to return to his hometown and entrust the care of Isabel to his septuagenarian mother and his sisters. This expedient solution, which allowed him to return to the classroom and his academic research, would weigh on him, fueling the guilt he began to feel for not taking a stronger hand in his daughter’s care. But he knew that he was not yet strong enough to tackle what that fates had dealt him.
A Dante scholar, Luzzi found himself turning for solace and answers to the great poet’s masterwork. “In my grief I identified more closely with Dante than ever before, especially his story of exile, the feeling of being a pilgrim suddenly adrift in a dark wood,” he writes. “But ‘The Divine Comedy’ was not a self-help manual, a means to a practical set of ends that I was able to negotiate based on Dante’s advice. To say as much would do violence to the kind of poem that Dante tried to write. In my grief his words cast a spell…. Reading ‘The Divine Comedy,’ we pause on the journey we’re supposed to be taking…. The poem distracts us as much as it instructs us. But in that distraction — that pause on whatever purgatorial climb we may find ourselves —t he closed fist of our hearts begins to unclench as beauty is pressed into our hand.”
Shaping “In a Dark Wood” into three parts, and echoing the structure of ‘The Divine Comedy,’ Luzzi recounts his descent into the Underworld of grief; his journey through the Purgatory of life without Katherine, as he attempts to find love again — at first too soon, with a woman who herself had recently suffered the crushing loss of a spouse; and finally his emergence into the light that the imperfect Paradise of our world has to offer. Setting aside self-pity for a deeper examination of what he has experienced, Luzzi lets the particulars of his story speak intimately to anyone who has faced challenging times.
Joseph Luzzi, the first American-born child in his Italian family, holds a doctorate from Yale and teaches at Bard. He is the author of “My Two Italies,” a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and “Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy,” which won the Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies from the Modern Language Association. An active critic, his essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Bookforum, and The Times Literary Supplement. Dante has been the focus of his teaching and writing for over twenty years, and honors for his work on Dante include a teaching prize from Yale and an essay award from the Dante Society of America.