- 21 Aug 2014
- The Sydney Morning Herald
- Elisabetta Povoledo Pieve Santo Stefano
- New York Times
Dear diaries give history lesson of common people.
The rich and famous, the important and powerful, can always have their say. But what of the bulk of humanity who suffer the whims of history, whose everyday labours give it life? How will their voices be remembered?
The answer, at least in Italy, can be found in this small Tuscan town, which has become Italy’s repository of lives recounted.
Some of those lives are hastily scribbled on scraps of paper. Others fill leather-bound journals with lazy longhand. Still others come tidily typewritten.
They are among the thousands of diaries, letters, autobiographies and punctilious notes that line the shelves of the National Diary Archive Foundation, providing firsthand accounts of the lives of common people and how they witnessed the grand events that shaped the nation.
Remembering, and celebrating, the lives of ordinary people who set down their experiences on paper is at the heart of what inspired Saverio Tutino, a foreign correspondent and devoted chronicler, to start the archive in 1984.
Since then, more than 7000 memoirs have made their way to Pieve Santo Stefano, now known as the City of Diaries, about 25 kilometres north-east of Arezzo.
Somewere brought here by their authors, who range from frustrated homemakers to unrepentant bank robbers; others by heirs of the diarists. Yet otherswere found in attics or at flea markets, then turned in because their story struck a chord with their readers. The earliest diaries date to the 18th century, but most are from the 20th century.
‘‘Tutino believed that everyone is one of many, and together we become history,’’ said Loretta Veri, the archive’s former director who now raises funds to support it.
At first, it took a prize of €1000 and – more important – the promise of publication to persuade so many diarists to entrust their musings to complete strangers.
Anyone can compete for the prize, which is awarded each September to the most compelling read. The dozens of entries are vetted by reading groups that consist of townspeople here as well as residents of neighbouring cities. The winner – selected from a shortlist of eight – is published. The others become part of the archive.