IA Literati spotlights local writers

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Kathryn Occhipinti and Carla Simonini

IA Literati 2019 — Casa Italia’s 15th annual celebration of local Italian-American authors — ran from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on June 1 in the Florentine Room of the Italian Cultural Center in Stone Park.

The event began with a meet-and-greet with the authors at 9:30, followed by presentations at 10. Additional activities included book sales, book signings, raffles and a light lunch at intermission.

Several new authors, including Adam Kessel, Alanna Crisci, Maria Rosaria D’Alfonso and Peter Belmonte, took part in the event along with veteran literati Lou Corsino, Kathy DeNicolo, CJ Martello, Kathryn Occhipinti and Tony Romano.

The keynote speaker was Carla Simonini, Ph.D., director and Paul and Ann Rubino Endowed Professor of Italian American Studies at Loyola University Chicago and editor of Italian Americana.

“Our event is a great place for readers to immerse themselves in the work of local Italian-American writers and a great place for Italian-American writers to network and find out what their fellow authors are doing,” says Italian Cultural Center librarian and event founder Dominic Candeloro. “We proudly support Italian-American authors, and we encourage the rest of the community to do the same.”

The following bios were provided by the sponsoring organization.


Carla A. Simonini received a BA from Amherst College, an MA in Comparative Literature from the University of Rhode Island and a Ph.D. in Italian Studies from Brown University. Her research interests include 20th century and contemporary Italian literature, theories and methodologies of second language acquisition and constructs of italianità in American and Italian American literature, which was the subject of her doctoral dissertation. She has taught at Brown University, the University of Rhode Island and Skidmore College. From 2010 to 2018, she was an associate professor of Italian at Youngstown State University, where she coordinated the Italian program and taught courses on Italian language, culture, and literature as well as courses on Italian American identity for the American Studies program, and on Italian American literature for the English Department. She is currently the founding director and endowed professor of a newly inaugurated interdisciplinary program at Loyola University Chicago serving as the Paul and Ann Rubino Professor in Italian American Studies.

Her goal is to research, preserve, and promote Italian American culture, will lead the Italian American Studies program. Loyola University Chicago is an ideal institution to host such a program as the city is one of the centers of Italian American culture, and the university has a campus in Italy known as the John Felice Rome Center. For more information on the professorship and the program, please visit the Paul and Ann Rubino Professorship webpage.


Peter L. Belmonte is a retired U.S. Air Force officer, author, and historian. A veteran of Operation Desert Storm, he holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Purdue University and a master’s degree in history from California State University, Stanislaus. He has published articles, book chapters, reviews, and papers about immigration and military history.

Belmonte is the author of several books, including “Italian Americans In World War II” (Chicago, 2001), “Days of Perfect Hell: The US 26th Infantry Regiment in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, October-November 1918” (Atglen, PA, 2015), and (with Alexander F. Barnes) “Forgotten Soldiers of World War I: America’s Immigrant Doughboys” (Atglen, PA, 2018).

In 2018, Belmonte appeared as an on-camera consultant for a Netflix series on Medal of Honor recipients. He is engaged in a study of Calabrian-Americans who served in the U.S. military during World War I and has self-published his findings in four volumes.


Lou Corsino is a sociologist and chair of the Department of Sociology at North Central College in Naperville. He grew up in Chicago Heights; received his BA at the University of Notre Dame; and his Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has published in a variety of journals, including the Italian American Review, Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, the Social Science Journal, Deviant Behavior, Research in the Sociology of Work.

In 2014, the University of Illinois Press published his book, “The Neighborhood Outfit: Organized Crime in Chicago Heights.” Most recently, his interests have focused upon Italian immigrant experience and the idea of hope.


Maria Rosaria D’Alfonso was born in Italy, grew up in Chicago, and has lived with her family in Salerno since 1972.

After teaching English for about 32 years from grammar school to university, she has been working as a high school principal in Milan and in Calabria.

In her spare time I enjoy writing poetry, drama, short stories and essays. She also write for several journals, both local and international.

D’Alfonso has received a number of awards and acknowledgements for her professional achievements both as a principal and a writer.

Among her main interests are immigration and inclusion.

She has published several books about teaching English as a foreign language and school management. She has contributed to the translation and presentation of the book Italian “American Women of Chicago.”


Kathy DeNicolo promotes literacy and conversation skills by sharing small stories about big ideas. These stories touch upon common experiences in today’s world. She believes that sharing stories about everyday heroes, long forgotten or speechless, is a way to pass life-affirming messages worldwide.

In the fictional novel “Connected: An American Homecoming,” K.F.DeNicolo tells the story of two teenagers caught in the aftermath of WW I. Living in a world of violence and destruction, they fall in love, marry and leave the beautiful Puglia region of Italy. Why? To look for a second chance at a better life. The writer’s conclusion is clear — facing life’s challenges can be tough anywhere at any age.

“Sidekick” is a user friendly activity book and could be used by book lovers of all ages. It’s a handbook, a starter point for important conversations. Today’s fast paced world keep us plugged in, running, and often distracted. Sidekick offers an opportunity to talk face to face, get unplugged, read between the lines and open doors to important conversations.


Adam Kessel has extensive experience as a teacher in urban ecology education programs in Chicago. He currently works as a teacher with the Forest Preserves. This work puts him in more than 70,000 acres of forest preserve lands teaching restoration-based environmental education programming. He has facilitated numerous teacher professional development programs focusing on place-based pedagogies in urban learning environments.

Kessel received his Master of Arts in Teaching from National-Louis University. His undergraduate degree is also from National-Louis University. He holds a teaching certificate with the state of Illinois, an arborist certificate through the International Society of Arboriculture, and an Interpretive Guide certificate through National Association for Interpretation.

Both Kessel and his illustrator, Alanna Crisci, are of Italian descent; Adam’s family hails from Calabria.


Alanna Crisci is an artist who spends her time drawing, painting, jewelry making land istening to vinyl. She studied art and design with an emphasis on illustration at Columbia College Chicago.


A Fra Noi correspondent, CJ Martello author’s the column Petals from Roseland, which appears on the magazine’s website, www.franoi.com.

An author and a resident of Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood, he is also an actor, presenting the one-man show “George Pullman: The Man and His Model Town” for community organizations, senior groups, and schools.

CJ is also a historian covering the Pullman/Roseland/Kensington areas; a docent of the Pullman neighborhood and Pullman factory site; and a former docent of the Prairie Avenue Historic District’s Glessner House and Clarke House Museums.


Dr. Kathryn Occhipinti is a radiologist of Italian-American descent who has been leading Italian language groups in the Peoria and Chicago areas for about 10 years. She focuses on methods to make learning Italian as a second language easy and enjoyable for the adult audience.

Using her experiences as a teacher and frequent traveler to Italy, she wrote the “Conversational Italian for Travelers” series of books, which follow the character Caterina on her travels through Italy, while at the same time introducing the fundamentals of the Italian language.

The associated website, http://www.learntravelitalian.com/ provides FREE interactive dialogues recorded by native Italian speakers, cultural notes, and Italian recipes to make learning the language really come alive.


Tony Romano is the author of the novel, “Where My Body Ends and the World Begins” (Allium Press), “When the World Was Young” (HarperCollins) and the story collection, “If You Eat, You Never Die” (HarperCollins). He is also the coauthor of “Expository Composition: Discovering Your Voice” and coauthor or the text, “Psychology and You.”

He was recently named Illinois Author of the Year by the Illinois Association for Teachers of English (IATE) and was honored with a Norman Mailer award. One of his story collections was a finalist in AWP’s annual contest. He is a two-time winner of a PEN Syndicated Fiction Project award. Both stories were produced on National Public Radio’s “The Sound of Writing” series and syndicated to newspapers nationwide.

He lives near Chicago and writes about books, music, work, and family on his blog at tonyromanoauthor.com.

About Fra Noi

Fra Noi produces a magazine and website that serve the Chicago-area Italian-American community. Our magazine offers our readers a monthly feast of news and views, culture and entertainment that keeps our diverse and widely scattered readers in touch with each other and their heritage. Our website offers a dizzying array of information drawn from every corner of the local community.

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