Italian Author Angela De Leo Receives Gjenima Prize for Literature

Angela De Leo, 2023

Angela De Leo
Angela De Leo

Celebrated Italian author Angela De Leo was awarded the esteemed 2023 Gjenima Prize for Literature in dual ceremonies in Rome and her hometown, Bitonto. Recognized for her six-decade influence on Italian literature, De Leo’s extensive body of work includes acclaimed novels, short stories, poetry, and essays. Beyond her personal accomplishments, she has played a crucial role in promoting literary culture as an editor, publisher, and advocate for other writers.

In festive ceremonies held in Italy’s capital and in the southern city of Bitonto, the outstanding Italian writer Angela De Leo received the 2023 Gjenima Prize for Literature. Reflecting the writer’s role in the full span of Italian literature, as well as her mutually generous relationship with her native Puglia region on the country’s southeast coast, the May 27 award presentation in Rome was paired with a May 30 encore in De Leo’s hometown.

A vital force in Italian literature for six decades, De Leo has published numerous acclaimed short stories, poetry collections, novels and essays, while also supporting other writers as a publisher, editor and promoter of literary culture.

De Leo has been associated with La Vallisa, a group of southern Italian poets, writers and intellectuals Italy committed to building cultural bridges with other countries in the Mediterranean and beyond, with a special emphasis on the Balkans. She has enacted similar convictions as an editor for the magazines Corellazioni universali and NEDA, as well as in co-founding the literary publisher SECOP Edizione, for which she directs the “I Girasoli” poetry series. Her poetry has been published in Italian, English, Serbian and Romanian.

Granted to writers in countries around the world each year since 2004, the Gjenima Prize is awarded as an “expression of thanks to the majestic spirit of the written word in the interest of the human race.” The internationally oriented prize recognizes the creator of an important body of literary work or a single major literary achievement that has played, or has major potential to play, a beneficial role in current history.

In an award presentation speech, Gjenima Prize committee co-chair Gjekë Marinaj remarked upon the presence of these qualities in De Leo’s work. As Marinaj noted, “In honoring Angela De Leo, we are not simply praising a poet, but acknowledging a pursuer of truth, a lover of philosophy, a weaver of dreams who has traveled to the edge of human experience. Her insight, captured in verse, opens the door to a deeper understanding of our common humanity.”

Accepting the Gjenima Prize, De Leo spoke of poetry as “an immense gift that brings us closer to divinity and to the deepest essence of things and of our soul.” She told her audience, “I don’t write to get acclaim, but because I love writing viscerally. I couldn’t live without it. After all, those who have the immense gift of the creative word and carry sheets of poetry in their hands have the task of breaking down walls and building bridges to ‘meet’ others and seek together glimpses of Beauty and Truth.”

With a telling modesty, De Leo spoke less of herself than of the meaning of literature and the “nodal points of our gratitude to others.” She expressed particular thankfulness to the writer Dragan Mraovic, her friend for more than four decades, with whom she has cultivated literary exchanges between Italy and his native Serbia. She also thanked Marinaj, the Gjenima Prize committee, her Italian editor, with whom she co-founded SECOP Edizione, Peppino Piacente, poet Selvaggia C Serini, her English translator, another close literary friend, the poet, editor and PEN Chile president Germán Rojas, and a host of others who have lent their aid to her life and mission.

Participating in the ceremony, Rojas called De Leo “an Italian poet whose literary stature goes far beyond the region and country she represents.”

In her acceptance speech, De Leo also expressed earnest gratitude to a inspiration always present in her memory, explaining that her writing was “urged to come to light by that storytelling grandfather always present in my poems, in my stories, in my novels, in my life. I started from ‘listening’ to his fairy tales…” In recent years, De Leo has published multiple volumes of a novel, Le piogge e i ciliegi, whose protagonist is Grandfather — a tribute to how her grandfather gave wings to her childhood imagination.

A longtime literature teacher and mentor to children and youth, De Leo also possesses an exceptional tie with younger generations, “the ones who make each new dawn a leaf from Heaven,” as she has written. She spoke of her own children and grandchildren as “having given me, with their love, the strength and courage to be reborn at each new dawn.”

Showing the depth of young people’s affection for the writer, at the ceremony in Rome, schoolchildren recited her verses by heart. Young musicians and dancers also contributed performances, under the direction of their teacher Ombretta Leone. The program ranged from a selection from Cocciante’s opera Notre Dame de Paris, to the Italian national anthem, accompanied by waving flags, to a flute rendition of the American standard “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

A further highlight of the evening of the Rome ceremony was De Leo’s birthday celebration, observed with exceptional ambience at Tonino Giusti’s restaurant “Ricomincio da tre.” In further evidence of De Leo’s combination of regional roots and acclaim with urban regard and recognition, the restaurant’s propietor provided a specially priced, particularly rich menu, cakes included, in the writer’s honor.

The May 30 prize presentation in De Leo’s birthplace of Bitonto was planned as means to give yet more of the writer’s many dear friends and relatives an opportunity to join in the celebration. They did so, and were rewarded with De Leo’s profuse appreciation. The ceremony was held at the city’s Traetta Theater under the name “From the Courtyard to the Sky: The Diaphanous Transparency of Angela De Leo’s Poetry.” At the event, Bitonto Mayor Francesco Paolo Ricci delivered words of welcome, while the city of Bitonto presented De Leo with a souvenir plaque.

Other participants in the event included the essayist Nicola Pice and poet and writer Mario Sicolo, the director of the newspaper DaBitonto, as well as a variety of musicians. Domenico Zezza performed “Gabriel’s Oboe” from Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to The Mission and the “storm” passage from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The soprano Natalizia Carone and Giuseppe Bini performed “Estrellita” by Manuel Ponce and “Once Upon Time…” by Ennio Morricone. Vincenzo Mastropirro read poems in Ruvese dialect and in Italian and played the Adagio from Telemann’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra.

In keeping with a newly established Gjenima Prize tradition, De Leo has offered a further gift of her own, intended to be saved by the Gjenima Prize committee for presentation to the winner of next year’s award. For this gift, the writer chose “Tied to a Thread of Light,” a piece of artistic embroidery created by the poet Angela Strippoli.

Other concurrent regional events for De Leo included a May 29 gathering at the Council Chamber of Bari’s Municipality of Modugno, with the assistance of Mayor Nicola Bonasia and the staff of the city council. Speakers included the award-winning writer Raffaele Nigro, who provided a detailed survey of De Leo’s works and contributions to literary community, and Professor Giovanni Dotoli, a noted literary critic, who spoke on De Leo’s poetics. That same evening, in Bari’s Corato muncipality, where De Leo lives and where SECOP Edizione is based, De Leo’s STEPS, her recently published debut English-language poetry collection, was presented at the Corato Open Space cultural center as part of the “Maggio Dei Libri” book festival.

Angela De Leo is an intensely passionate, ardently devoted writer who maintains an unflagging exuberance while also engaging fearlessly with the experience of pain and loss. Her deftly crafted works achieve a sense of effortless purity that stems from her carefully guarded will to drink deeply, with spiritual trust, from what she has called the “first source,” where the “gift of poetry” is born. Her heartfelt, lyrical writing has helped her to nurture deep friendships at home and abroad, including in regional and world literary communities. Her literary prowess as well as the good will and spirit of joyful cultural cultivation she enjoys across generations ensure her lasting influence in shaping the values of literature in her native country as well as internationally.



Photo gallery courtesy of
Anna Paola Piacente