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TOP 10 20th Century Italian Authors

Updated on September 10, 2013

Most Popular Twentieth Century Italian Writers and Literature

Italian Literature of the 20th century was shaped under war, violence and dictatorship. There was a big political transition and the authors were vocal about it. Here are 10 of the best Italian authors from 20th century who went through hard times to reach success and found a way to connect with their readers. Contemporary literature owes a lot to these authors not only in Italy but throughout the world. This article was written to show appreciation for their work.

My introduction to th 20th century Italian Literature was through Italo Calvino's "If On A Winter's Night A Traveler". That book fascinated me so much and I started reading his other books. Since Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco are linguistically close, I then started reading Eco. But Eco, is a whole different puzzle on his own. In order to better understand the second part of the 20th century, I knew I needed to go a little back, to the beginning of 1900s. Italo Svevo was the perfect stepping stone.

One thing that is truly fascinating about Italian literature, and it is because of the richness of their language, the descriptive words are really strong and if you wanted to translate them in different languages, especially non Western languages, you need more than just one word to be able to give the true meanning of descriptions. Some of these authors especially love long phrases, like Eco and Calvino for example. In some translations these long phrases are divided into multiple separate sentences but there are some very successful translations that are faithful to author's style. When I chose a book that is translated, I usually make research about the translator and their previous or other works if available.

Italo Svevo
Italo Svevo

Italo Svevo

Born Aron Ettore Schmitz (December 19, 1861 - September 13, 1928), Italo Svevo is one of the pioneers of the 20th century Italian Literature. He was highly influenced by Sigmund Freud's psycho-analysis theory when he wrote and self published his book titled "Zeno's Conscience". This book could have easily been vanished on the dusty shelves of history if Svevo hadn't met James Joyce in 1907. During that time Joyce was an unknown young Irish author who was teaching English in Trieste at The Berlitz School. When Svevo became Joyce's student, the long term friendship between the two authors took off, and it helped Svevo publish his first book in English: "Una burla riuscita". In September 1928 Svevo was involved in a car accident. He only survived a few days following this accident and finally died on September 13, 1928.





Best Italo Svevo Books

A short clip from the movie Senilita

This movie was directed by Ettore Schmitz, featuring Claudia Cardinale.

cesare pavese
cesare pavese

Cesare Pavese

Cesare Pavese (September 9, 1908 - August 27, 1950) was born in Santa Stefano Balbo, his father's native village. Although the family later moved to Turin, when Pavese was a little kid, they always went back to their native town during summers. Pavese graduated from the University of Turin, where he studied English Literature. He was translating books from English and American literature, opening new doors to Italian readers. He was also involved in antifascist movements during the mid 30's, which caused his arrest in 1935. He spent a few months in prison but then was sent to internal exile in Southern Italy. After returning to Turin in 1936 he continued translating books in addition to working as an editor. After the second world war, Pavese joined the communist party and also worked as a journalist for the party's newspaper. Pavese's fiction is dominated by loneliness, isolation and betrayal. His novels deal with social struggle. His most important works are "The Comrade", "Among Women Only", "The Moon and the Bonfire". Pavese committed suicide in 1950.





Cesare Pavese: Il Suicidio

luigi pirandello
luigi pirandello

Luigi Pirandello

Nobel Prize winner Luigi Pirandello was born in 1867 to a wealthy family in a village named Kaos. He is known as a dramatist, novelist and short story writer. His works built the foundation of absurd literature. Pirandello wrote some of his most important works in his native Sicilian language including a dissertation on the dialect of his town Kaos. His novellas are collected under the title "Novelle Per Un Anno". It was his plays that received the biggest attention and brought him the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was very close to Mussolini, who helped him take the artistic direction and ownership of the Teatro d'Arte di Roma. This close relationship with the fascist dictator was often the subject of debate in the literary community in Italy... was he just close to Mussolini to get the directorship of the place or was he really a fascist? Pirandello always provoked the readers' curiosity in his works by mixing reality and illusion, truth and falsehood. He died in Rome in 1936.





Pirandello on TV

A TV Movie about a group of people going to see a Pirandello play in a theater.

dino buzzati
dino buzzati

Dino Buzzati

Dino Buzzati was born in 1906 in San Pellegrino, Belluno. He was a novelist, a short story writer, a poet and a painter. He also worked as a journalist for the well known and respected Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. He was hired for this position when he was only 22 years old, and while he was still studying law at the University of Milan. Buzzati's style can be characterized as fantastic realism or magical realism. Some of his most important works are "Larger Than Life", "A Love Affair" and "Catastrophe". Buzzati died of cancer in 1972.




Best Dino Buzzati Books

An interview with Dino Buzzati

umberto eco
umberto eco

Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco was born on January 5, 1932 in Alessandria. His interest in medieval history led him to study Medieval Philosophy and Literature at the University of Turin. Although his family raised him as a Catholic, Eco left the church during the mid 50's. He also started to work for RAI (Radiotelevisione Italiana) as a cultural editor. This job helped him meet a lot of artists and authors and opened the ways for a life in the world of philosophy, literature and linguistics. "Faucault's Pendulum", "The Name of the Rose" and "On Literature" are among many of his works. He also published a number of essays on semiotics.







Top Umberto Eco Books

Have you seen "The Name of the Rose"?

The Name of the Rose is most definitely the most known work of Umberto Eco. This film features Sean Connery (as a monk) and Christian Slater when he was very young. A must see, with a great soundtrack as well. This video is Part 1 of the movie.

The soundtrack of this movie is a must have!

Other books and DVD's about the movie and the novel:

italo calvino
italo calvino

Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino was born in 1923 in Santiago De Las Vegas, Cuba. His father was born in Italy but immigrated to Mexico and then to Cuba in the early 1900s. His mother was also Italian. Two years after Calvino's birth, the family returned to Italy where he would study Agriculture at the University of Turin, mostly because it was his father's wish. In 1943, he transferred to the University of Florence continuing his education in the same domain, passing three more exams. During the World War II, Calvino's family were doing everything in their power to delay him getting drafted. In 1944 Calvino, with the suggestion of his mother joined the clandestine communist group called the Garibaldi Brigades. Calvino eventually became one of Italy's most famous post-war writers. His best known works include "If On A Winter's Night A traveler", "Invisible Cities" and "Cosmocomics". Calvino died of brain hemorrhage in Siena on Sept. 19, 1985.






Take a look at Calvino's books here

John Turturro reads a short story by Italo Calvino

The story is titled "The False Grandmother" and it will remind you "The Little Red Riding Hood". Only the ending is a little different.

alberto moravia
alberto moravia

Alberto Moravia

Born Alberto Pincherle (November 28, 1907 - September 26, 1990) Alberto Moravia was an Italian novelist, a short story writer and a journalist. Moravia touched social and contemporary issues in his novels including sex and social alienation. His wife Elsa Morante was also a well known author. When he was only nine years old, Moravia's health worsened and he battled with tubercular infection of the leg bones for many years, spending a long time in sanatoriums. It was during this time that he had started to write. He published his first book titled "Time of Indifference" which is considered as the first European Existentialist novel. In the early 30's, Moravia was the foreign correspondent for two major nespapers: La Stampa and La Gazetta del Popolo. He traveled in the USA and in many European countries. Moravia died in Rome where he spent the majority of his life, in 1990. His most important works are: "La Bella Vita", "L'Epidemia" and "Il Conformista".





An Interview with Alberto Moravia

pier paolo pasolini
pier paolo pasolini

Pier Paolo Pasolini

Pier Paolo Pasolini was born in Bologna in 1922. As a novelist, poet, journalist and painter, he was one of the most controversial figures of his time not only in Italy but throughout Europe. He began to write when he was a teenager. He was very much inspired by Arthur Rimbaud, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Shakespeare. When he was studying at the Literature College at the University of Bologna, he became familiar with philology, aesthetics, and figurative art. In 1942, when he was living in Casarsa, waiting for the World War II to end, he got drafted, and as if this was not enough, he was imprisoned by the Germans. Pasolini however managed to escape and go back to Casarsa. He published a poetry collection in 1946. Pasolini was murdered by being run over his own car many times near Rome. He was more famous outside of Italy with his movies rather than his books. Some of his most important works are: "Ragazzi di Vita", "Violent Life" and "Ashes of Gramsci".





Best Pier Paolo Pasolini Books

A Documentary about "the film maker" Pier Paolo Pasolini

primo levi
primo levi

Primo Levi

Primo Levi was born in Turin in 1919. He studied chemistry at the University of Turin. Because he was coming from a Jewish family, Levi was arrested during the World War II and was sent to Auschwitz in 1944. This brutal experience opened up the ways for his remarkably powerful memoirs, fiction and poetry. For the most part of his life Levi had to deal with the fact that he survived the Auschwitz Camp. He studied chemistry. He wrote a memoir titled "Se questo è un uomo" about his time in the camp. Levi killed himself at the age of 67, in 1987.





A Poem: "Those Who Died In Vain" by Primo Levi

giuseppe ungaretti
giuseppe ungaretti

Giuseppe Ungaretti

Giuseppe Ungaretti was born in 1888 in Alexandria, Egypt into a Tuscan family. Life in Egypt had a big influence on him. He always said the exoticism in his book took its roots from his days in Africa. When he was enrolled to a French school in Alexandria, he became familiar with the French literature and literary movements like parnassianism and symbolism. He also became a fan of Charles Beaudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud. When he moved to Paris at the age of 24, he started to attend lectures at the Collège de France and the University of Paris where he became friends with Guillaume Apollinaire. With Apollinaire's influence he became a follower of Cubism and Surrealism. During World War I, Ungaretti became involved in poetry and published a book. He also joined the Fascist Party. Ungaretti died in Milan in 1970. Some of his most important works are: "The Feeling of Time", "The Promised Land" and "The Joy of Shipwrecks".



Best Giuseppe Ungaretti Books

L'Arte Della Poesia

If you liked this article and want to learn more about the 20th century Italian literature check out these books:

Who is your most favorite Italian author?

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Share your thoughts on 20th century Italian literature here, or simply tell us what you think about this article

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    • profile image

      John Fordham 

      3 years ago

      I would like to know more about Dino Buzzati whose "Deserto dei Tartari" (Tartar Steppe) is one of the handful of outstanding novels I have ever read. I would like to know a little more about his other literary works. What about women authors like Elsa Morante and Natalia Ginzburg? And surely mention should be made of the poems of Salvatore Quasimodo,who not only won the Nobel Prize for Literature (not always a guarantee of quality) but who wrote one of the shortest and most profound poems ever:

      Ognuno sta solo sul cuor della terra

      Trafitto da un raggio di sole

      Ed e subito sera.

      As a 65-year-old, those words penetrate and move even more now than when I first read them in my twenties.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      What about the best Italian Christian author of many books and children's books - Daniele Luciano Moskal

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I missed (or you missed) my favorite Italian author: Leonard Sciacia, If you like Italian writers, you need to check him out

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Wonderful Lens! It was really useful.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Interesting article! Thank you

    • waldenthreenet profile image


      8 years ago

      Valuable topic on Italian Culture and celebrating Italy America Friendship Circle Cafe Twin C2C (my new board at Congrads on your Squidoo level 61. Thanks.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      nice work , keep it continue i like your lens.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      nice work , keep it continue i like your lens.

    • nyclittleitaly profile image


      8 years ago

      Very informative lens.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      An excellent tribute to the top ten 20th century Italian authors, sadly, I was not familiar with any of them.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I am attracted to Italian composer besides writers. I love their compositons of musical pieces.Thaks for a veryu informative lens.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I really enjoyed going through this lens-- what a trip! Thanks so for sharing-- it is beautiful!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      There is so much to read, thanks for assembling these great authors together.

    • profile image

      Eleonora Imazio 

      9 years ago

      A really nice selection! Thanks for the lens. Svevo was born in the city where I live now, Trieste, right on the border with Slovenia. It was a long fought territory between Italy and Slovenia. It's a really interesting area from the cultural, social and historical point of view. And yes, it's on the sea and the gulf is beautiful :D

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Very well done!

    • profile image

      anansigirls lm 

      9 years ago

      OOOH! It took me almost 15 minutes to vote because I constantly changed my mind about my favourite Italian writer. This was such an exciting lens. Thank you!

    • profile image

      gypsyman27 lm 

      9 years ago

      Twentieth century Italian literature, is rich in symbology and very intense. At least that's what I think. This is a very good lens on the subject. I appreciate learning something from that which I have read. See you around the galaxy...

    • Bercton1 profile image


      9 years ago

      Great lens and great Italian literature.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      A lovely chronicle and a beautifully crafted lens. My knowledge of Italian literature sadly is limited to Mario Puzo (American author on Italy) and the God Father series. Great learning. God bless.

    • mariaamoroso profile image


      9 years ago from Sweden

      I am a book fan. Reading is a must and this lens is lovely. Now I am hoping that the translators do a good job to. I read mostly in Swedish

    • nickupton lm profile image

      nickupton lm 

      9 years ago

      Great lens. I love good literature but Umberto Eco's Faucault's Pendulum is the most awful book I have ever read. I will try some of the other Italian authors here though as you have showcased them so well.

    • profile image

      CHalloran LM 

      9 years ago

      @DrinkWorkshop: I had such a hard time when I first read it. Probably because I was too young to make sense of it. But I saw the movie years after its release and then re-read the book. But by then I was already studying literature so it was easy to put the pieces together. My all time favorite author though is, Italo Calvino.

    • michael kapsner profile image

      michael kapsner 

      9 years ago

      I am not familiar with the authors but have read Name of the Rose and it was quite good. Thanks for a great lens!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great lens! I have a feeling Umberto Eco is winning in the polls because we've all seen The Name of the Rose. I want to actually read that book that now.

    • profile image

      CHalloran LM 

      9 years ago

      @tiff0315: thank you so much... i would highly recommend Italo Calvino's "If On A Winter's Night A Traveler". It is a very interesting read, stories within a story. One of the best books I have ever read.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Sadly, I don't know any of these authors, but you showcased them well! Very great lens!

    • mariatjader profile image


      9 years ago

      Great lens & blessed.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thanks for the mini-literature course in a lens -- well done!

    • delia-delia profile image


      9 years ago

      Very nicely done lens! unfortunately I'm not a reader (big regret)

    • Amy Fricano profile image

      Amy Fricano 

      9 years ago from WNY

      Excellent lens.

    • norma-holt profile image


      9 years ago

      Nicely structured lens and well presented information. Featured this on How to Buy Books Online

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Comprehensive and interesting guide of 20th century Italian literature figures. Nicely built lens. I hope to see more of you in the future. I studied French Literature too - rich and suple language. I love its logical structure and the music of its sound.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      What a great resource, highly informative and some great suggestions for reading that I wouldn't have perhaps thought of.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Great collection.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 

      10 years ago from UK

      Fantastic to see Italian literature covered here on Squidoo, and so well presented too. I enjoyed the novels of Natalia Ginzburg which were my first introduction to writing in the Italian language. After that, I was caught up with earlier poets and novelists and this reminds me that I really do need to read some modern (20th century) Italian authors from this list.


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