A TRIBUTE TO POET AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST GIL FAGIANI
BY ANTHONY JULIAN TAMBURRI
It is with profound sorrow that I announce the passing of Gil Fagiani, poet, translator, essayist, and political activist. Gil waged a most valiant war against a devastating disease that, alas, took its toll this past Thursday, April 12.
Gil’s politics placed him among the founding members of Italian Americans for a Multicultural United States (IAMUS). He figures also as one of the founders of the Vito Marcantonio Forum (VMF). Further still, with his wife Maria Lisella, Poet Laureate of Queens, he was a stalwart of the Italian American Writers Association (IAWA) and its monthly readings. His organizational work in this regard knows no equal.
Gil’s life-long dedication to social activism was also reflected in his professional life as a substance abuse professional, as he himself characterized his work to David Gonzalez of the NY Times.
In his later years, that social activism was transformed into his poetry, since “a poem,” as he stated, “is powerful … [it can] affect people in a way that is more powerful than an essay because it stirs up the emotions.” Indeed, Gil’s many books have moved people and stirred up emotions. His more recent, powerful poetry collection,Logos (2015), recounts his drug addiction, told with an honesty that captures his reader’s attention throughout. His books about his upbringing in Stamford, Connecticut, in turn, offer his reader the privilege of an insider in both a melancholic and ironic manner, while never falling into sentimentality, and they thus keep his reader glued to the page. The impressive number of Gil’s books, to date, will increase within the next few months, as the third of his Connecticut trilogy, Missing Madonnas, is due out soon.
Gil was a constant presence at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute with his life companion and wife Maria. He was, more importantly, a dear friend to many of us. Gil’s political insight and his social awareness undergird a sensitivity toward others that was grounded in the firm belief of finding common ground. This, I would contend, is much of what made Gil the unique human being he was. This marked integrity constitutes what we shall remember as his distinct eloquence and profound insight.
On a personal note, Gil and I rediscovered our common roots in Stamford in recent years, having made trips there together for a reading and a lecture series. We shared many conversations about growing up Italian in Connecticut, how we were formed by those experiences. We had hoped to do more, especially with his forthcoming collection. But that, to our chagrin, will not happen. I shall remember Gil as that kind, soulful human being who always had a smile on his face and a kind word for all. That, dear friends, is invaluable.
All of us at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute shall dearly miss Gil!
I include here Stephen Siciliano’s obituary on the VMF’s blogspot.
With profound sadness,
Anthony Julian Tamburri, Dean
John D. Calandra Italian American Institute
Distinguished Professor of European Languages and Literatures