Poet and priest Pier Giorgio Di Cicco passed away on December 22, 2019. As a poet and editor, his contributions to Canadian literature are enormous. As a priest who served the parishes of the greater Toronto area, he helped many people and left a lasting impression on all who heard his homilies.
My first contact with Giorgio was on November 5, 1976, when he sent me a letter inviting me to contribute to a new poetry anthology that he was editing. That anthology, Roman Candles, published in June, 1978, included 17 poets, and began the phenomenon of Italian-Canadian writing. Giorgio promoted Roman Candles in Toronto and asked me to arrange a reading in Edmonton. At the time, Giorgio was an assistant editor at the literary magazine, Books in Canada.
On October 16 to 19, 1978, Giorgio was in Edmonton, giving readings at Athabasca University, the Dante Alighieri Society, and the University of Alberta. I also arranged TV and radio interviews. We promoted the anthology in Montreal, as well, since it included poets from Quebec. We discovered many different authors. Giorgio was the initial driving force for Italian-Canadian writing, a body of writing that inspired many other ethnic minority authors and transformed our understanding of Canadian literature into a more diverse representation of our national culture.
Giorgio sometimes taught creative writing courses and inspired many other writers such as Gianna Patriarca, Dore Michelut and Antonino Mazza. In 1978, Frank Paci published his first novel, The Italians, which became a Canadian bestseller. That same year in Montreal Antonio D’Alfonso founded Guernica Editions in order to give these new writers a venue for their creations. At the time, the works of ethnic minority authors were often rejected by the gatekeepers of Canadian literature, who were focused on creating a national literature based on Anglo-Celtic cultural roots. Giorgio lamented this problem in his preface to Roman Candles.
In response to these conflicting pressures, I edited the critical collection, Contrasts: Comparative Essays on Italian-Canadian Writing in 1985. It included ten contributors, three of whom had appeared in Roman Candles, and so it continued the work of promoting Italian-Canadian authors first started by Pier Giorgio Di Cicco.
In September 1986, Italian-Canadian writers from across Canada met in Vancouver for a conference sponsored by the Italian Cultural Centre and organized by Anna Foschi, Dino Minni and Genni Gunn. At that meeting, a number of authors decided to establish the Association of Italian-Canadian Writers. Pier Giorgio Di Cicco was one of the founding members, along with Antonio D’Alfonso, Pasquale Verdicchio, Dore Michelut, Dino Minni, Marco Micone and myself.
We did not know it at that time, but Giorgio had decided to enter religious life. With the publication of Virgin Science in 1986, he had produced thirteen of his own books. Then stopped writing for about 15 years.
After he earned a Master of Divinity degree in 1990 he left the monastery and taught high school for a year. It was a coincidence that he was hired to teach at Fr. Michael Goetz Secondary School in Mississauga by Louise Pivato who is my sister.
As a priest, Father Di Cicco worked in many parishes in and around Toronto. Because he spoke Italian, he was also able to help Italian seniors who spoke poor English. He became known as a person with spiritual gifts.
With the appearance of Living in Paradise in 2001, Pier Giorgio Di Cicco returned to publishing his poetry. In 2004 he was made Poet Laureate of Toronto in recognition of his many contributions to Canadian literature. Giorgio went on to publish five more books, giving us a significant body of work. In 2011, my critical collection, Pier Giorgio Di Cicco: Essays on His Works, provided further recognition of his achievements as a writer. In addition to eleven essays on various aspects of his poetry books, it includes an interview with Giorgio, a brief biography and a bibliography of his writings. He was 70 when he died.
That fortuitous encounter with Giorgio in 1977 changed my career as an academic, a researcher and a writer. It also brought me back into the creative communities of Italian-Canadians in Toronto and Montreal. I am part of the legacy of Pier Giorgio Di Cicco. It was an honour to have known Giorgio all these years.