“You Almost Feel Guilty Being Alive” Stellfox Prize Winner Reflects on Life Changing Career

Jacob DeCarli '22, Managing Editor

A week with Italian author and screenwriter Roberto Saviano concluded on Wednesday, March 3 with the 2020 Stellfox prize lecture. Saviano, most known for his 2006 novel Gomorrah, was the 15th person honored with the prestigious Harold and Ethel L. Stellfox Visiting Scholars and Writers Program award. 

 Saviano has been under mandatory police escort since he exposed illegal actions of the Neapolitan mafia. Attendees could not bring bags into the ATS lecture and were required to be screened by a Dickinson Public Safety (DPS) officer before entering the building. 

Provost Neil Weissman opened the lecture with the background of the Stellfox award. He then welcomed Saviano and the Consulate of Italy based in Philadelphia. Associate Professor of Film Studies and Italian Nicoletta Marini-Miao introduced Saviano and his work to the audience. She reflected on his legacy in Italy and the rest of the world and said, “Roberto [Saviano] acts with words and he makes changes…he is a living symbol.” 

Marini-Miao then welcomed Saviano to the podium where he gave opening remarks about his career. He then sat with his translator to read passages from Gomorrah and his 2016 novel The Piranhas. Three students read English versions of the passages to the audience. 

Saviano read part of the first chapter of Gomorrah titled “The Port.” Saviano details the operations of trade controlled by the mafia in the port of Naples. In the chapter, the mafia exploits the labor of Chinese workers to generate immense profit from their fashion and toy industries. “The structure of a clan is organized like a business,” Saviano said to the audience. He then read part of the chapter “Angelina Jolie” where a fashion designer working with the mafia sees American actress Angelina Jolie wearing his creation on the red-carpet runway. The designer claims he was only told that his garment would be shipped to America and not worn by a recognizable celebrity. 

A question and answer session followed with the help of Saviano’s translator. Audiences members included students and faculty of the English and Italian departments, Dickinson College community members and visitors from Italian classes of Bucknell University. 

 Saviano reflected on the current immigration situation in Italy and how North African migrants are stereotyped to be in the mafia. “Most operations have moved north (in Italy)” he said and explained that most foreign involvement comes from other European countries. He then explained the growing drug trade business of the mafia, specifically with cocaine. 

Audience members also asked Saviano about the roles of women in these groups. According to Saviano, female bosses of mafia clans operate their leadership differently then their male counterparts. “They’ve reached leadership on the battlefields by staying away from traditional mafia violence,” he said. Unlike many male mafia bosses, Saviano said that female ones try to help their sons escape the clans in hopes of having better lives. 

The Stellfox lecture was hosted on Wednesday, March 3 at 7 p.m. in ATS and drew in an audience of 150 people.