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Short biography
Elsa Morante was born in Rome, Italy, the daughter of a Jewish mother, Irma Poggibonsi, and a Sicilian father, Francesco Lo Monaco. She took the surname of her mother’s second husband, Augusto Morante. As a small child, Elsa was sickly and was kept home from school. At age six, she lived for a while with her godmother, Maria Guerrieri di Gonzaga, an aristocrat. She re-joined the Morante family when they moved in 1922 to Monte Verde Nuovo, where she attended gymnasium. After graduation, she began studies in literature at the University of Rome, but left for financial reasons. She earned her living by editing doctoral theses and giving private lessons in Latin. In 1930, she began writing stories for the children’s journals Il Corriere dei Piccoli and I diritti della scuola. She published her first novel, Qualcuno bussa alla porta, in 1935. The following year, she met Alberto Moravia, whom she married in 1941. The relationship with Moravia brought her into contact with many leading Italian writers and intellectuals of the day. She became friends with Umberto Saba, Sandro Penna, and Pier Paolo Pasolini. In 1943, during World War II, because each had a Jewish parent and Moravia was accused of anti-fascist activities, the couple moved to Fondi, in a mountainous region of the south of Italy, to live in hiding. After the Allied liberation in 1944, they returned to Rome. Southern Italy, which Elsa loved, features in many of her novels and stories. In 1948, she published her novel Menzogna e Sortilegio (English translation. House of Liars), which won the Viareggio literary prize. Other major works included a volume of short stories, Lo scialle Andaluso (1953) and the novel L’isola di Arturo (1957), which won the Strega Prize. The same year, she participated in a cultural delegations to the Soviet Union and China. In 1959, while traveling in the United States, she met Bill Morrow, a young painter from New York, and they developed a deep friendship. In 1961, she separated from Alberto Moravia and began a period of travel and journalistic reporting. In 1968 she published Il mondo salvato dai ragazzini, a collection of poems in various styles, popular songs and a one-act play, and in 1974, the novel La Storia. Her last novel was Aracoeli (1982), which won the Prix Medicis. A version of her diary appeared posthumously in 1989 as Diario 1938.
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