“Oh, how words persist!”: A Conversation with Giada Scodellaro

Giada Scodellaro

Giada Scodellaro’s “Pool” crystallizes her debut collection Some of Them Will Carry Me. The story depicts a relationship between two people, as seen during a day at a resort. Glimpsing another couple seated silently nearby, the narrator confides, “It was the kind of interaction I wished we could have, a quiet and melancholic intimacy. But Mya spoke and spoke.” In a few lines, “Pool” suggests that words can’t conceal our circumstances. Likewise other stories in Some of Them Will Carry Me show how threads of the social fabric fray and twist and stretch with the atmospheric pressures of contemporary life. In her treatment of the kindness of cooking for others, or the currencies of attention and desire, Scodellaro shares her imagination with the reader like a pact.

Scodellaro was born in Naples, Italy and raised in the Bronx, New York. She is a writer, photographer, and translator who holds an MFA in Fiction from The New School. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The New Yorker, BOMB, Harper’s, and Granta, among other publications. She is a recipient of a MacDowell Fellowship, and is the inaugural Tables of Contents Regenerative Residency fellow.

I spoke with Giada on April 3, 2023, over Zoom. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Erik Noonan: Dorothy, a Publishing Project published your debut story collection Some of Them will Carry Me last year. Is it thrilling for the book to be out? 

Giada Scodellaro: It’s thrilling. I don’t think that will go away. I still can’t believe the book exists. 

Have you done much promotion? 

I did a reading for the release at Greenlight Bookstore with Hilary Leichter, who wrote the wonderful book Temporary; participated in the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville; did a Tables of Contents event; the Franklin Park Reading Series; and the Rally Reading Series. I got to visit and talk to students at the University of Maine, The New School, and most recently Columbia University. For the stories to be taught in a classroom is surreal. So there was a little tour.

That must have felt like a whirlwind. Sometimes a strange echo comes back after publication, and the writer hears the words anew. Have you ever looked into your book without recognizing it, as if you were reading another language?

I know what you mean. Different people interpret different elements of the book. A student from the Rhode Island School of Design talked to me about the curtains, mesh netting, sheets, thin fabrics, and the overall use of textiles in the book, as a device used to veil, suffocate, or cover up objects and bodies. I thought that was an incredible perspective. When someone finds a new meaning, or something I hadn’t thought of, or something I hadn’t known I was doing, it sounds absolutely right. Even though it isn’t intentional, it is right. Language is interesting. It is everything. It always brings me back to translation. I love reading books in translation, and thinking about the process of translation. A translator is writing a new book, in a way. I’m bilingual. I read Italian. I was able to have Italian incorporated into this book, and then to translate that piece into English from the Italian, and therefore the text becomes something new altogether.

Your writing leaves space in between things and invites the reader’s participation. You’re not providing specifics, saying exactly what streetcorner something happened on, for example. This airiness gives us room to create the story along with you. 

One of the biggest things that I think about when I’m writing is trusting the reader. As a reader, I want the author to trust me, so I gravitate towards books where things aren’t over-explained. Connected to that, and the airiness that you’re talking about, is brevity. Concision. I love to tighten things, to have a lot of white space on the page, and to use as few words as possible. I’m a short form writer, even though right now I’m trying to write a novel. I like the idea of creating an image, a snapshot of a place, a time, and a character, and not leaving with everything buttoned up or clean.

Your prose is concise, but fluid. I don’t feel as if there’s a density coming at me when I read it. I’m thinking about jazz. With the kind of writing you’re describing, the writer sets up conditions to let her play unexpected notes.

I read everything out loud. Some writers do that in the later stages, but I do it from the beginning. I choose words based on their sound. For example, Danielle Dutton, Dorothy’s wonderful editor—one of the best editors I’ve worked with—and I were debating and going back and forth about a certain word. A color, or something. I don’t remember what it was. Her word was better than mine, but I decided to stick with mine because of how it sounded on its own, and within the sentence. So a lot surprises me in my own writing. I don’t outline anything. Which is maybe not a good idea, though it works for me. I don’t know how to outline. It doesn’t help me. I tried it in school and it never worked, so I just write, and I allow the characters and the tone and the mood to carry me, and I don’t ever know what’s going to happen. It’s intense, but it’s rewarding, I think, because I reach the end and I know it’s the end, even as I’m surprised that this is where it’s landing. So yes, improvisation, the syncopated nature of the work. I’m trying to play. 

The approach you describe harkens back to something essential, not just in writing, but in American life in general, that I don’t see a lot among writers today, even among poets: the improvisatory quality that life can take on in the contemporary urban context.

This goes back to language. I think it has something to do with the influence of Italian authors, or the Italian language itself. An Elena Ferrante, for example, writes lines that we would consider to be run-on sentences, but in Italian, it’s right, it makes sense. Italian is musical, melodious. I think this is innate for me and for my writing. I’m not doing it on purpose, but it’s imbued in my pacing, in the voice. I also think a lot about American literature, European literature, and international literature in general. Going back to density, have you read Self-Portrait in Green by Marie Ndiaye? 

No, I haven’t.

It’s a tiny French book. I think American literature requires elaboration. It goes on and on and on. When I read American literature, I always think, “This should be ten thousand words shorter.” It’s about word count requirements here, whereas in other countries it’s sometimes more about the essence of the narrative. I struggle with it. For everything I want to write, even if it’s a novel, I don’t know if I’m allowed to be concise, or to get to the point. But in this book, I was able to play with form—with length, brevity, and white space. 

You string ideas along, legato. You’re not importing the qualities of one language into another, experimenting. For you, the Italian language is a vernacular, your mother tongue. It can’t help being part of your sensibility.

Yes, it’s a feeling. It’s so much of who I am. Italian is my first language. Going to school and growing up here in the Northeast Bronx, I didn’t speak any English and I was thrust into an unfamiliar environment, though it is one I quickly learned to love. I’ve lost the ability to think in Italian. I only think in English and I translate into Italian. I’m fluent, but I’m grieving the loss of a language. I tried to put the subject of language, and the loss of language, into Some of Them Will Carry Me. How do you communicate something if you no longer understand, or if you’re not understood? What happens if you go back and forth between understanding and not understanding? What is the tension of this? And what is lost?

People don’t write out of plenitude, they write because they need to find something that’s missing. Culture and language have a way of changing, and I think when you spend a couple of days in Italy, you’ll be dreaming in Italian again. 

There’s still hope for me. It comes back when I go home. 

You mentioned Elena Ferrante. What other Italian writers are important to you? 

I need to read more in Italian. Obviously Calvino. I don’t want to admit this, but it’s hard to read him in Italian. It is laborious, it requires complete concentration. I do it, but I struggle. He’s so good. I aspire to everything that he does. I’ll never reach him. There’s also a Swiss author that writes in Italian, Fleur Jaeggy. I love her work, most recently These Possible Lives and I Am the Brother of XX

I guessed you were a Calvino lover because “Freedom of White Boys in the Sand” has an Inflamed Mountain that looms over everything, which struck me as a Calvinoesque image. Did you know Italo Calvino met Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. in Montgomery? 

Really? Is there a photo of Calvino there? 

Not that I’ve seen. He wrote about it in his diary. How about photography? In “Three Months of Banana” you reference a photo of Muhammad Ali on a horse outside the Apollo Theater.

The mention of Muhammad Ali riding a horse in the streets of Harlem is from the film Black Rodeo. When I look at photos of certain important Black figures, and I see them in moments of joy or leisure, I take great interest in them. There are a lot of pivotal works by Black artists that I’m only just discovering. The image of Dr. King wearing swimming trunks by a pool, on vacation with his wife, is disorienting. I didn’t know if it would be possible to write about real people in a collection of surreal stories, or if it would make sense in terms of what I was trying to achieve. I included a couple of these references when I first submitted the work to Dorothy, and then, when we were talking about how to expand it, they told me to keep pushing in that direction, and this gave me permission to continue.

The people you mention form a picture unto themselves: Toni Braxton, D’Angelo, Alice Coltrane, Fran Ross, Lorna Simpson, Tschabalala Self, Deanna Lawson, and Sophie Calle. They show what’s in your imagination. You include other cultural references too. The character in “Constellations” accumulates clippings, a personal collection of cutouts from Ebony and Jet.

My grandmother owns Ebony magazines, from the sixties and seventies. She has a lot of objects in her home, photographs, music, books. My mother and grandmother are at the center of my life and my work. “Constellations” was inspired by the work of Lorna Simpson, who cuts figures out of magazines, and other print materials, to make collages. A piece by Tschabalala Self is on the cover. In it, she uses velvet and paint, and lace. I am intrigued by collage. There’s also Deanna Lawson, whose photography and use of domestic spaces I love and deeply admire. These Black women artists influence me. I’m a fan of their work. And so that’s in the text. I used these images, objects, sound, music, and film, and I was surrounded by these things, and wanted to write about them. I also want the characters to experience what I’m experiencing. I want the people in my stories to be given objects, to inherit things, I want them to own something, the way that things were handed down to me, or will be handed down to me. The things we gather from our people, the things we don’t want but inherit—the legacy of objects, ideas, and morals, and how those things influence or change us—that’s some of what I was thinking about while writing this collection.

Your stories depict relationships—cultural, social, and historical—among women, in particular Black women. Your book encodes Black women’s experience, transmitted in private and public, from mother to daughter, sister to sister, friend to friend. The stories embody something specific to Black women, globally but particularly in the United States, which passes between them instantaneously. It’s unspoken, self-sufficient, independent of anybody else’s acknowledgement. 

That part is vital. There’s a language among Black women, specifically Black American women, in which a lot of things are communicated and understood nonverbally. It is something I experience with my friends, with my family, even with strangers. I think for me that’s the appeal of the images from these magazines. The displacement of them, the fractured self, and the communal self. There’s also something in the face and body that’s familiar to me. Nostalgic. I understand what the images are saying. They communicate something that is both public and private. I think part of what I loved about including these things is that some people are going to understand the references and some people are not. It’s a way to communicate with Black women that feels sacred. It was special to have the freedom to do that. I don’t know if everything I’m doing can be understood. 

My mother is the one who exposed me to Black authors, ideas, and music, performing and visual art. She and my grandmother. It’s an ode to them and to everyone else that has influenced me as a Black woman. This book is about bleakness but also hope, it plays with time.

During intimate moments, a plant or a yellow wall is watching your characters, and the bleakness your mentioned is apparent. But when people touch each other, their contact opens up possibilities for the future of innocence and sensuality, which is hopeful. The imagination is important in your stories because people create their lives as they go. This has to do with the improvisatory quality of your writing.

I love silence in film and writing. I was trying to use pauses and moments of hesitation. My work is not plot-driven. I don’t need a lot of action, or movement. I want to sit, reflect, and slow things down. I think about the wall, how time might move for a wall, fast, or how time moves for a person who is forced to share space with another person. Sometimes I wish the narrative would move faster, but I think it’s important for me to sit in the quiet and explore what that silent space is. I’m not afraid of that. I’m not afraid of quiet. I’m not afraid of inaction. Some readers don’t have a lot of patience for that. But I’m a patient reader, and I will go with anything. In New York City, especially uptown, the movement is excessive, baby—you better move out of the way because people have things to do. Everyone is busy. In Naples it’s different. If I visit in August when everything shuts down, it is very slow, quiet. For a place to be constantly open and accessible and available, it’s convenient, yes, but I prefer stillness. 

For me, this stasis is a repudiation that ignores the hustle, and it comes across more powerfully than an explicit statement would. The epigraph of the book is from a poem by Alice Walker: “I would not mind / if I were / a sinner, / but as it is / —let me assure you— / I sleep alone.” A story can be a poem. You’re writing poems in prose. I’m curious about that epigraph, and about what other poets are important to you.

I wish I was a poet. I admire the intention of poetry, the way you have to be deliberate with space and with words. I want to take my prose seriously. I read Morgan Parker’s Magical Negro while writing this book. Saeed Jones’s Prelude to Bruise, James Cagney’s Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory. So many others. Alice Walker’s Once. I still love her work. I have the book here. The epigraph comes from a poem called “Compulsory Chapel.” It’s beautiful. Can I read it to you?


A quiet afternoon
the speaker
the New Testament
washed out
Through the window
a lonely
makes noisy song.

The speaker crashes
through his speech
All eyes are
upon him
Over his left
the thick hair
is beginning
to slip.

I would not mind
          if I were

                              a sinner,

but as it is
—let me assure you—
I sleep alone.

For me, the epigraph is about purity. In your stories, eroticism and chastity are closely connected. This has something to do with your technique as well. The writing has a singular quality that I admire.

That epigraph holds a certain solitude. I was raised Catholic, though I no longer practice. I went to Catholic elementary school, and an all-girls Catholic high school. Yes, it is about purity, and therefore also about sin, and shame. It becomes a part of who you are, when you’re raised in the Church. It’s the prism through which I view sexuality, chastity, and purity. I think that’s in the work. 

You write about sin and shame with a light touch. Your stories ask questions about the meaning of sensuality—not pleasure or hedonism—in the United States, where there’s a constant invitation to be sorry, and feel ashamed. I’m thinking of “A Triangle” in particular, where a voyeur takes part in the embrace of a pair of lovers. 

Sexuality in the US is different from sexuality in Italy, or in Europe. The way we think about the body is different. There isn’t a lot of shame around a naked body over there. I remember seeing nude posters when I was little. People on the beach were consistently topless. But of course that is allowed with the white body. Here, especially when it comes to the female body, and to the Black female body, there’s shame around exploring it, considering it, confronting it, and displaying it. It was important for me to come to the States at that age, seven eight, because I needed to be in community with Black people. This was formative. My mother gave me a copy of Toni Morrison’s work while I was still very young. She gave me The Bluest Eye. I don’t think it was appropriate at that age. There’s a lot I didn’t understand in it, but she gave me a gift. It opened up my world, and my understanding of self, of the body, of girlhood. I read it again later as an adult and understood a lot of other things, and I think my mother was trying to communicate something about art, but also about herself.

How telling that sensuality led us to race! It’s impossible to extricate them from each other. The start of literature for you is the libraries of your mother and your maternal grandmother. Toni Morrison describes the experience of leaving the working class neighborhood where she grew up—people of all descriptions living in what she later regarded as harmony—and moving away from home into the wider world. 

It is so central to who Morrison is, and what her work is about. There’s an interview where a white journalist asks her something about when she will incorporate white life into her work, and Morrison responds, “It’s inconceivable that where I already am is the mainstream.” It is this consistent centering of Black life, Black women, Black children that endures.


Erik Noonan is associate managing editor at Another Chicago Magazine. His writing appears in the anthology Cross-Strokes: Poetry Between Los Angeles and San Francisco. He lives in Oakland.

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