Cesare Pavese

Cesare Pavese (1908–1950) was born in the countryside outside Turin, Italy. At age twenty-two he earned a PhD with a thesis on Walt Whitman and in the 1930s he became one of Italy’s leading translators of American literature; his version of Moby Dick is still the standard. In 1935 he was jailed on the vague charge of “anti-Fascist activities,” sentenced to three years of detention, and exiled to Brancaleone, Calabria. During this time he finished his first book, a collection of poems entitled Lavorare stanca (Hard Labor), the book he considered his masterpiece. He served ten months of his sentence, then returned to Turin and continued translating. In 1941 he published his first novel and ushered in a decade of ceaseless literary activity—by 1950 he had written nine novels and numerous novellas, short stories, poems, and critical essays. In May of 1950, at the peak of his career, he was awarded Italy’s most coveted literary honor, the Premio Strega; in August he committed suicide, leaving these last words in his diary: “No words. An act. I won’t write any more.”

Awards and Honors

Premio Strega, Italy, 1950