Italo Calvino (15 October 1923 – 19 September 1985) was an Italian journalist and writer of short stories and novels. His best known works include the Our Ancestors trilogy (1952–1959), the Cosmicomics collection of short stories (1965), and the novels Invisible Cities (1972) and If on a winter's night a traveler (1979).
"Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his. In the lives of emperors there is a moment which follows pride in the boundless extension of the territories we have conquered, and the melancholy and relief of knowing we shall soon give up any thought of knowing and understanding them."
"A little over thirty years ago Italo Calvino set out to provide for Italy what the Grimms had given Germany, a national collection of folktales. After two years of research he published <i>Fiabe italiane</i> (1956), 200 tales gleaned from nineteenth-century collections in the various dialects of Italy and translated into Italian."
"Since the publication of his first novel, <i>Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno (The Path to the Nest of Spiders</i>), in 1947, Italo Calvino has been a very visible participant in the Italian cultural and literary scene. The early years of his critical and creative production were spent in the most active and stimulating literary milieu of post-war Italy, the Einaudi Publishing Company in Turin, around which gravitated people such as Cesare Pavese, Natalia and Leone Ginzbeurg, Elio Vittorini, in short, some of 'the best minds of our generation.'"
Calvino's international popularity and critical reputation is frequently attributed to the virtuosity and larkish style of his works, as well as to his imaginative probing of myriad human concerns. While some critics argue that Calvino's political and social observations lack commitment and conviction and that his interest in exotic scenarios and fabulous creations overshadows his intellectual investigations, most commentators praise his enchanting approach to fundamental intellectual and humanistic concerns.
In 1975 he became an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters; in 1980 Italian Folktales was included on the American Library Association's Notable Booklist; in 1984 he was awarded an honorary degree by Mount Holyoke College; and in 1985 he was to have delivered the Norton Lectures at Harvard. However, Calvino died at 61 on September 19, 1985, in Siena, Italy, following a cerebral hemorrhage.
For a five year period from 1974 onwards, he contributed to "Corriere della Sera" with short stories, accounts of travels, and writings on the political and social situation in the country. From 1979, he continued this activity in the columns of "La Repubblica" until the time of his death in 1985 at the hospital of Siena.
Calvino turned decisively to fantasy and allegory in the 1950s, producing the three fantastic tales that brought him international acclaim. The first of these fantasies, <i>Il visconte dimezzato</i> (1952; </i>The Cloven Viscount</i>), is an allegorical story of a man split in two—a good half and an evil half—by a cannon shot; he becomes whole through his love for a peasant girl. The second and most highly praised fantasy, <i>Il barone rampante</i> (1957; <i>The Baron in the Trees</i>), is a whimsical tale of a 19th-century nobleman who one day decides to climb into the trees and who never sets foot on the ground again. The third fantasy, <i>Il cavaliere inesistente</i> (1959; “<i>The Nonexistent Knight</i>), is a mock epic chivalric tale.
Two of Calvino’s first fictional works were inspired by his participation in the Italian Resistance: the Neorealistic novel <i>Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno</i> (1947; <i>The Path to the Nest of Spiders</i>), which views the Resistance through the experiences of an adolescent as helpless in the midst of events as the adults around him; and the collection of stories entitled <i>Ultimo viene il corvo</i> (1949; <i>Adam, One Afternoon, and Other Stories</i>).
After preparatory school, Calvino enrolled in the Faculty of Science at the University of Turin. However, soon after his matriculation, Calvino received orders to join the Italian Army. He promptly fled to the hills and joined the resistance. During the two years that Germany occupied Italy (1943-1945) Calvino lived as a partisan in the woods of the Alpi Maritime region fighting both German and Italian fascists.
Calvino was born in Cuba, where his Italian parents were working on an agronomy project. Upon returning to Italy, Calvino's father became curator of the botanical gardens in San Remo, a northern port town. Sharing his parents' interest in botany, Calvino studied agronomy and English literature at the University of Turin, where he completed his degree in 1947.