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Pietro Di Donato (1911–1992) was an American writer born in West Hoboken, New Jersey (now Union City) to parents who emigrated from the town of Vasto, in the region of Abruzzo in Italy.[1]

Di Donato had limited formal education but reached great popularity with his first novel Christ in Concrete, which was published in 1939. The novel was inspired by the death of Di Donato's father in a construction accident on Good Friday 1923. Di Donato was only twelve, and that tragic day changed his life forever. He became also a construction worker and he retained a trade union membership for all his life.

Christ in Concrete was a blue-collar proletarian novel. Screenwriter Ben Barzman, who wrote the screenplay into which the novel was directed, called it "the first of its kind", and The National Italian American Foundation called it "rare." The novel had originally been published as a short story by Esquire magazine but it was soon after expanded in a full novel. It was eventually chosen for the Book of the Month Club, edging out John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, which was published the same year. According to Allen Barra in an interview for Salon.com, the novel became an instant classic, and standard reading for second-generation Italian-Americans.

The novel was adapted into the 1949 film Give Us This Day (U.S. title: "Christ in Concrete"), written by Ben Barzman, and directed by blacklisted filmmaker Edward Dmytryk. It won awards at festivals across Europe, such as the 1949 Venice Film Festival, though it was effectively banned from the United States at the time, and was only shown in a single theatre.

In 1942, Di Donato spent time in a Cooperstown, New York camp as a conscientious objector to World War II, during which he met former showgirl Helen Dean. They would later marry in 1943, move to Long Island, New York, and have two sons.

In 1978 his reportage on the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro (president of the Christian Democratic Party of Italy), titled Christ in Plastic, won the Overseas Press Club Award. His later novels did not attain the same level of attention as Christ in Concrete, though his 1960 novel Immigrant Saint: The Life of Mother Cabrini also became a classic.

Di Donato died of bone cancer in 1992 on Long Island, with his last work unpublished.

He is the subject of the book Pietro DiDonato, the Master Builder by Matthew Diomede, published by Bucknell University Press in 1995.

Bibliography

  • Christ in Concrete (1939)
  • This Woman (1958)
  • Immigrant Saint: The Life of Mother Cabrini (1960)
  • Three Circles of Light (1960)
  • The Penitent (1962, biography of Maria Goretti)
  • Naked Author (1970)
  • The American Gospels (2000).

References

  1. Severo, Richard. "Pietro di Donato Is Dead at 80; Wrote of Immigrants' Experience", The New York Times, January 21, 1992. Accessed December 10, 2007. "Mr. di Donato was born on April 3, 1911, in West Hoboken, N.J. His family had immigrated to the United States from Vasto, in the Abruzzi region of Italy."

Sources

  • Rosero, Jessica. "Native Sons and Daughters: Tragedy Led Italian Novelist in UC to Pen Literary Classic; Christ in Concrete." Union City Reporter February 12, 2006.

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