REMEMBERING LOUISE DESALVO
One of the highlights of my career as a book publicist was meeting and working with the writer Louise DeSalvo. Finally, after years of working with authors on the publicity campaigns for their books, I met an Italian-American female writer whose life experience I understood as a small reflection of my own. Plus she was a Virginia Woolf scholar! Her book was VERTIGO: A memoir, and it was Louise’s story about coming of age during the 1950s in Hoboken, New Jersey. Louise was rebellious, and desperate to form an identity based on her own desires, moving beyond the limits of her family’s working-class life. Exactly how I felt two decades later growing up in the working-class town of Inwood on Long Island. We had, somehow, both managed to escape the script written by parental and social expectations. Here was my role model, someone to look up to and emulate.
By the time I met Louise I had worked long enough to know that authors I had dreamed of working with sometimes disappointed me, so I reminded myself to keep the relationship professional and do the best job possible on the publicity campaign for VERTIGO. I needn’t have worried; Louise was the real deal. Not only a brilliant writer and an amazing professor, she was one of the most generous people I have ever met. Even now, many years later, I remember our in-depth conversation about a balsamic vinegar she raved about during one of our lunches. Several weeks later it arrived at my door. Another gift arrived (I don’t remember the occasion) shortly after: a necklace based on an etruscan design which I still to this day wear. Even after her book’s publication and the great reviews that followed it, Louise and I kept in touch. When my son was born she wrote a lovely letter filled with prescriptive advice about breastfeeding that actually helped. That was just her way: she was wise and wanted to share her experiences with anyone she thought she could help.
Louise DeSalvo was a literary powerhouse in the Italian American literary community who will be remembered not only for her groundbreaking work on Virginia Woolf but as one of the first to give the genre of memoir legitimacy as an academic subject. She truly believed that writing could and did change lives, and once we read her work, we did too.
Jennifer Romanello is a Professor in the MS Program in Publishing at Pace University. She was formerly VP, Director of Publicity at Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing and Grand Central Publishing.