Founded in 2014 by Meytal Radzinski, August is known as “Women In Translation Month” (#WITMonth), an entire month dedicated to women from around the world who write in languages other than English. We thought this was the perfect time to share the interesting work of one of our public clubs, The Open Doors Review Book Club, dedicated to reading books in English or Italian (your preference) by authors with a strong connection to Italy and creating an online space to transcend barriers to literature, language, and the human experience.
Originally from California, founder and Renaissance woman, Lauren Mouat has lived and worked as a writer, translator, teacher, and tour guide in Italy since 2010, and like so many of us during the reign of Covid-19, she had to find creative ways to keep working and to keep sane. So, in the midst of chaos, sadness, and uncertainty, she turned to the place that has always provided her solace and inspiration--reading, writing, and discussion. Her tireless efforts resulted in the creation of Open Doors Review, Italy's English-Italian literary magazine that launched in January of 2021.
We sat down with Lauren and discussed her journey over the past year and how she developed the Open Doors Review and her subsequent book club:
Q: Tell our audience a little bit about yourself:
LM: Reading and writing are an essential part of my life. When I write, I think. When I read, I grow. In my time in Italy, I’ve written for numerous publications and I’ve sought to bring writers together in a series of writing groups to share our work and ideas. We met first in Rome in a small apartment in Monti then around a green table by the Campidoglio (you know who you are!). I’ve also worked for many years as a tour guide and in discussing Italy’s art and history I found myself wanting to explore and share more of the contemporary writing and creative endeavors that are growing in Italy today.
Leggere e scrivere sono una parte essenziale della mia vita. Quando scrivo, penso. Quando leggo, mi evolvo. In questi anni ho scritto per numerose pubblicazioni e ho cercato di creare vari gruppi di scrittura per condividere progetti ed idee. I primi incontri sono avvenuti a Roma in un piccolo appartamento a Monti e successivamente attorno ad un tavolo verde vicino al Campidoglio (sapete chi siete!). Da qualche anno esercito la professione di guida turistica. Parlando di arte e storia Italiana, ho avuto il desiderio di esplorare e condividere la scrittura contemporanea, ricercando tutta quella creatività che sta crescendo oggi in Italia.
Q: What is Open Doors Review?
LM: We're a seasonally published literary & arts magazine featuring short fiction, essays, poetry, visual art, and interviews with authors and local artisans. We publish work submitted in Italian and in English in an effort to share enthusiasm and encourage the exchange of ideas that only art can bring to the surface. My aim is to connect writers and artists to reveal another side of Italy, a country that is so much more multifaceted than we are used to seeing in mainstream culture. The world is going through vast changes and I believe that what we create now and the conversations we have today, will decide our future.
Open Doors Review è una rivista non solo letteraria ad uscita stagionale. Ci occupiamo di short fiction, saggi, poesie ed arti visive, includendo interviste con autori ed artigiani locali. Pubblichiamo lavori in lingua italiana ed inglese. Open Doors è un modo per condividere entusiasmo, incoraggiare lo scambio di idee e portare in superficie le cose che solo l’arte può mostrare. Connettere scrittori ed artisti è l’unico modo per rivelare il vero carattere dell’Italia. Queste conversazioni decideranno il futuro di un mondo che sta evolvendosi sempre più velocemente.
Q: What’s been your goal or desired outcome for Open Doors Review?
LM: In popular culture, Italy is frequently seen as two things: a soap opera Mafiosi video game or a picture postcard tourist dreamland of the Dolce Vita.
I want to add more stories to this picture. Let’s look under the surface. Let’s highlight the creativity and skill of the people in Italy. Now. Today. The point is not to produce something Italy-focused. It’s to create a collection of writing and visual art that is Italy-grown.
Who do you love? What do you believe in? What do you know? These days, truth is under attack. Reality means different things to different people. While language is increasingly black and white the issues, like our hearts, never are. Art lives in these spaces between.
We are cracking open, evolving, breaking up with the old world, breaking down the new. That’s where art grows. That’s where conversations happen. There, in that space, we find our humanity when we share and connect with each other.
I challenge readers and fellow book clubbers to step into that place. Come on in, the doors are open!
Agli occhi di uno straniero, L’Italia viene spesso vista come il paese della pizza, della Mafia e della Dolce Vita.
È l’ora di condividere storie ed immagini per scardinare questa stereotipo e dare un’occhiata più nel profondo. Mettiamo in risalto la creatività e l’abilità delle persone del “Bel Paese.” Adesso. Oggi. L’obiettivo non è di creare qualcosa che sia incentrato solo sull’Italia. Si tratta di diffondere una raccolta di scritture ed arti visive cresciuta in questo posto.
Chi ami? In che cosa credi? Cosa è reale? In questi giorni la verità è in pericolo. La realtà viene percepita in maniera diverse a seconda del punto di vista delle persone. Mentre il linguaggio è sempre più categorico, i problemi (come i nostri cuori) non lo sono. L’arte fiorisce proprio in questo terreno di mezzo.
Ci stiamo aprendo. Ci stiamo evolvendo. Stiamo rompendo con il vecchio mondo e mettendo il nuovo alla prova. È qui che avvengono le conversazioni. È così che cresce l’arte. Qui, in questo spazio, condividendo e connettendoci l’uno con l’altro, ritroviamo la nostra umanità.
Non ti resta che entrare in questo luogo e iniziare a creare. Le porte sono aperte.
The remaining portion of the interview is in English without Italian translation. Mea Culpa!
Q: For the new Open Doors Book Club, what goes through your mind when thinking about books to read?
LM: The things that I want to read are the things that make me think about people, places, the world, new ideas in a different way and usually that means something might make me feel uncomfortable. I want to read something that will make me want to have a conversation about it and say to a friend, “please read this because I need to hear your thoughts on it.” And I want to have a conversation about it because then that piece exists outside the page and the author's head. I want to read something that sticks in people’s minds.
Q: How do you think the Book Club component will enhance what Open Doors Review is trying to achieve?
LM: People are now in this frame of mind in which they are way more open to doing online things and it’s a wonderful way to connect people and one can choose how much or the ways in which they want to engage --whether if it’s via zoom or the online discussion or even just reading along with the selections. It’s great for people to connect through a core interest that is not restricted to geographical location.
Initially, I considered making this available to readers only in Italy but Italian author, Flavia Brunetti thoughtfully pointed out to me that the world is having a problem with borders and boundaries which made me realize that you do not need to be living in a place in order to feel a connection to it. The Open Doors Review Book Club is open and available to anyone who feels a connection to Italy of any kind.
Q: What will the book selection process look like for your Book Club?
LM: The books will be Italian-centric, written by an Italian author that has been translated into English so that Italian readers can read in their native language and language learners can challenge themselves to read in Italian or read the English translation. This gives readers an opportunity to engage with Italy’s literature without taking a formal class or reading on your own without being able to discuss it with someone afterward--which can be so frustrating! Especially, if you read a book and it sort of punches you in the face with its intensity and you want to run to someone and say “oh my gosh, my life is changed because of this book!” and their response is “oh, I haven’t read that.”
Q: What’s the last thing that you read that really moved you?
LM: Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Series, books #3 and #4 specifically. I felt like I was reading about a woman’s total experience in life rather than just one aspect or area of her life without shying away from anything. She wasn’t the hero, she wasn’t the villain-- at times she was courageous but also cowardly and she made mistakes; she was a complete person. I feel like we’re often presented with books about women’s issues or subjects (whatever that means), but this book presents the protagonist as a person who happens to be a woman. I’m used to reading about men as people, but I usually read about women as women if that makes sense. This is one of the first times I felt like I was reading about a female character in full personhood. It’s important to have books or stories that address aspects of womanhood like menstruation, motherhood, menopause, and rape, but those are not the only things that make up our lives. I also love that she weaves contemporary Italian history into the books, which is something you don’t often get from a book about Italy. By the time I hit book three, I basically stopped existing...I was doing nothing but reading that book or recovering from reading it. I was depressed when I finished it and desperately looked for friends who had also read it so I could talk about it--what I needed was a book club! Now I have one.
The Open Doors Review Book Club starts in September with its first book:
- Dove mi trovo by Jhumpa Lahiri [Italian]
- Whereabouts: A novel. by Jhumpa Lahiri [English]
More information about Open Doors Review: