URI professor’s Night Bloom wins flowery praise

KINGSTON, R.I. — March 30, 1999 — It takes a writer like Mary Cappello of Providence, an associate professor of English at URI, to show that life is full of contradictions, but they grow from the same roots. She reveals just that in her powerful memoir Night Bloom, published this past fall by Beacon Press. For example, the Night-Blooming Cereus, a plant that figures in her family’s story and only blossoms after sunset. “It’s a witchy, bewitching, hideous monstrosity of a plant,” Cappello says in her memoir “whose flower is magnificent.” Cappello, a second-generation Italian-American, finds beauty growing with the ugly: Her father, between fits of rage, tended the most delicate garden in their working-class Philadelphia suburb. Her mother, an agoraphobic whose fears kept her from leaving the house for seven years, spoke out against racism, wrote feminist sermons for a progressive parish priest, and recited fiery poetry at the dinner table. Her aunt mourned her young daughter’s death by crafting thousands of rosary beads. Night Bloom is Cappello’s complex look at her family and consequently at herself. Deftly interweaving the bilingual journals of her grandfather (a Southern Italian shoemaker), her mother’s poetry, and Sicilian folklore, she recounts growing up in a neighborhood “where nothing was meant to bloom.” The book is a memoir of a family. “At its best, my memoir is a memoir of class, class mobility, and the violence created by class distinction,” says the author. Cappello sees the lines between fiction and memoir as very thin. Memoir is a fiction, she says, but with a very specific theme—memory itself. The memoir is a story about memory. Cappello says she reads others’ memoirs because she longs to know how they have marshaled the resources at their disposal to reinvent the relationship between the past and present. A poet and author of scholarly essays, Cappello found her decision to work with the memoir form had to do with her being a lesbian and the acute realization of the oppressive uses (for both gays and straights) to which sexual definitions are put in modern culture. “If any memoir needs to resist the confessional mode it is the queer memoir, for the discourse of sexuality and the confessional work hand in hand in our culture,” she cautions. Cappello’s book is attracting a lot of well-deserved attention. It’s been reviewed in numerous publications, including Women’s Review of Books. Cappello was interviewed by Canadian Public Radio and was invited to be the D.B. Shaw lecturer at Dickinson College this April. She also has been invited to participate in the Deep South Writers conference this fall. Cappello has been nominated by an editor at W. W. Norton to be a fellow at the prestigious Breadloaf Writer’s Conference, held each summer at Middlebury College. Cappello’s mother implored her daughter to look with the same kind of convictions most Italian mothers tell their children to mangia! (eat!). “Winter has its colorful berries, too, she would show me. Appreciate. Love. Live. Remember. Remember what you see and it will be a life in you, a flame turned to low, and it could be a bounty you give to others.” Fortunately for the reader, Cappello has followed her mother’s advice in NightBloom. For More Information: Jan Sawyer, 874-2116