October 31, 2016

“Ferrante Fever” Comes To D.C. After Anonymous Author Is Outed

By Tayla Burney

Do you feel it? The buzz in the air when an anticipated book is about to drop? It’s the jittery energy that, in this case, is best described as a case of #FerranteFever.

Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym used by the author of the Neapolitan book series that has caught fire with readers worldwide. Readers are drawn to the world Ferrante created, her main characters Elena and Lila, the complicated emotional nuances folded into her plot and the air of mystery around her own identity. That is, until recently, when a journalist’s investigation made a solid case for who she might be, shocking and dividing the literary community.

That mystery is one of the things that make Ferrante’s success remarkable.

Up until recently, she has enjoyed a great deal of anonymity. Elena Ferrante is a pen name and the author hasn’t been an active promoter of her work in the way that so many are.

Her approach is unusual because we readers expect an awful lot from our writers these days. It’s not uncommon for a best-selling author to spend months on tour visiting bookstores, literary festivals and even book clubs as they tirelessly advocate for their work.

We also expect them to act as our modern version of the public intellectual. Commenting on the news, the state of American culture, weighty issues of the day their work touches on. It’s a lot to expect and Ferrante has given limited interviews via email, avoiding the pressures that can be daunting for so many of her colleagues.

The mystery surrounding Ferrante is further complicated by the notion that her fiction must have an element of autobiography to it. It’s easy to default to the thought that if a work of fiction rings “true” it must come from an experience. But that idea must frustrate many writers whose imaginations are active and varied.

Despite being “outed,” Ferrante will publish two new books, “Frantumaglia” and “The Beach at Night,” on Tuesday, Nov. 1. To celebrate, two area booksellers, Politics & Prose and East City Book Shop, will be hosting events on Wednesday, Nov. 2 for area fans.

Regardless of Ferrante’s identity, it’s clear her work has touched many readers. And the rumor that she is writing more about herself will only continue to fuel speculation about her, driving up sales and event attendance.

As Laurie Gillman of East City Book Shop notes:

“Any excuse to have Italian treats and wine is a good enough excuse to get people together.”

Courtesy of East City Book Shop

In addition to the treats, East City’s regular fiction book club facilitator, Donna Sokol will be on-hand to lead a conversation about the books. “People will be happy to be together to talk about these books and this mysterious author that people feel a kind of kinship with,” says Gillman. She notes that in this contentious political climate, “when something like this happens and naturally grows around people being excited about a story or author, just let it happen and enjoy it.”

Over at Politics & Prose, Ferrante events will be hosted by book critic Bethanne Patrick, also known as the Book Maven.

Jon Purves of Politics & Prose says that, for their purposes, not having an author on hand for the event they’ll be hosting actually opens up new possibilities. “I can’t think of someone who generates this kind of attention with a new release other than J.K. Rowling,” he said. “Ferrante is so enigmatic and there’s so much conversation generated around her work. Because you can’t go see her, we get to open the discussion of her work up to the readers.”

Having had a chance to peek at “Frantumaglia,” Purves says Ferrante’s new work “is intended to satisfy the curiosity about who she is as an individual while still respecting her privacy. It walks some difficult ground and I think it does so rather well.”

More information on local Ferrante events can be found on Politics & Prose and East City Book Shop‘s websites.


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