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Konrad Eisenbichler wins Italian Flaiano Prize for literature

Konrad Eisenbichler. Photo by Diana Tyszko.

Konrad Eisenbichler. Photo by Diana Tyszko.

Konrad Eisenbichler was at lunch with his parents when he received a phone call from Adriana Frisenna, the director of Toronto’s Italian Cultural Institute. She had received a letter from Italy’s Flaiano Prizes organization notifying her that Eisenbichler had won the prestigious International Flaiano prize for Italian Studies.

“I had to quickly change my plans for the summer!” said Eisenbichler, recalling that moment. “They won’t give me the award if I don’t show up!”

Eisenbichler – of the Department of Italian Studies and Victoria College’s Renaissance Studies program – won the prize for his book The Sword and the Pen: Women, Poetry and Politics in Sixteenth-Century Siena. The award is for scholarship, under an umbrella of awards for literature (which also includes narrative prose, poetry and lifetime achievement). Flaiano Prizes also go to cinema, theatre, radio and television personalities both in and outside of Italy. Eisenbichler is the first Canadian to win the Flaiano Prize for scholarship and only the second Canadian to win any Flaiano Prize since its inception in 1976 – Alice Munro won it for narrative prose in 2008.

“For me, winning this prize is like winning an Oscar,” said Eisenbichler. “I’m very pleased.”

The Sword and the Pen takes a look at activist women who, during the last 20 years of the independent republic of Siena in the 16th century, were writing politically-engaged poetry, something that was quite unusual for the time. One woman Eisenbichler studied, Virginia Martini Salvi, was arrested and risked capital punishment for her poems, but Emperor Charles V intervened and actually ordered for her to be released. A second woman, Laudomia Forteguerri, wrote love poetry for another woman, the first case of lesbian poetry in the Italian tradition. A third woman, Onorata Tancredi Pecci, wrote religious poetry with subtle Protestant undertones.

“These women were part of reformist ideas that were very lively in Siena and certain parts of Italy,” he said. “Their poetry reflects their engagement with politics and religion at that crucial time for Siena and for Italy.”

Eisenbichler, who in 2010 was named a Knight Commander in the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy by President Giorgio Napolitano, will travel to Pescara, Italy, to accept his prize at a televised ceremony on July 14.