By CAROL ARMBRUSTER
The Strega Prize (Il Premio Strega), Italy's most prestigious literary prize, celebrated its 50th anniversary at the Library of Congress on May 8.
Sponsored by the European Division and the Italian Cultural Institute of Washington, D.C., the program included a historical review of the prize and its polemics, an anecdotal description of the election process and readings by the 1996 Strega Prize winner -- Alessandro Barbero -- and finalists. Fifty years of Strega Prize-winning books, plus most of the top five finalists of those years, were displayed for browsing by the participants and audience. The entire collection was presented to the Library by Anna Maria Rimoaldi, director of the Fondazione Maria e Goffredo Bellonci, which maintains the prize.
The Strega Prize originated in post-World War II Rome among a group of illustrious Italian writers, intellectuals, artists and musicians known as the Sunday Friends (Amici della domenica). Maria Bellonci, a writer, and her husband, Goffredo, had hosted the Sunday Friends in their home since 1944 and thus maintained during the uncertain times of postwar Italy live and active discussions among many prominent personalities involved in Italian cultural life. In 1947 Maria and Goffredo Bellonci, along with Guido Alberti, decided to institute a new literary prize, one to be decided by the votes of the members of the Sunday Friends. Alberti, the owner of the firm that produced the Strega liqueur, provided the money for the prize and its name. A review of the prize-winning authors is in itself a review of 50 years of Italian cultural history.
The winners include such well-known names as Cesare Pavese, Alberto Moravia, Giorgio Bassani, Elsa Morante, Dino Buzzati, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Carlo Cassola, Natalia Ginzburg, Giovanni Arpino, Anna Maria Ortese, Lalla Romano, Primo Levi, Umberto Eco, Gesualdo Bufalino and many more.
Since the death of Maria Bellonci in 1986, the prize has been administered by the Fondazione Maria e Goffredo Bellonci. On July 3, 1997, the 50th Strega Prize will be announced in the ceremony traditionally held in the garden of the Villa Giulia in Rome.
The collection of the Premio Strega books donated to the Library will be housed in the newly opened European Reading Room, where readers are invited to browse and read a full 50 years of Italian cultural history.
Ms. Armbruster is a French and Italian Area specialist.