Anna Maria Ortese

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Anna Maria Ortese
Born (1914-06-14)June 14, 1914
Died March 10, 1998(1998-03-10) (aged 83)
Rapallo, Genoa, Italy
Occupation Short story writer, poet
Language Italian
Nationality Italian
Citizenship Italian
Period 1937-1987
Notable works L’infanta Se Polta, Il Mare Non Bagna Napoli
Relatives Vaccá Beatrice and Oreste Ortese

Anna Maria Ortese (June 14, 1914 in Rome – March 10, 1998 in Rapallo, Genoa) was an Italian short story writer and a poet. She was best known for her 1953 short story "Il Mare Non Bagna Napoli," which depicted the abject conditions of Naples following World War II. She once said, “We write because we look for companionship, then we publish because we get paid a little bit of money."

Early life[edit]

Born in Rome, she was the fifth of six children born to Vaccá Beatrice and Oreste Ortese. Her father worked for the Italian government, and the family moved frequently.[1] In January 1933, her brother, Emmanuel, with whom she was very close, died in Martinique, where his ship had docked. His death drove her to write.[1]


Her first poems were published in the magazine La Sierra Lettering. Her work was well-received, and she was encouraged to write further. The following year, the same magazine published her first short story, "La Pellerossa." In 1937, Massimo Bontempelli, writer for La Bonpiani and Ortese's mentor, published another of her short stories, "Angelici Dolori". Although this story received favorable reviews, it drew criticism from prominent literary critics Falqui and Vigorelli.[1]

Despite her promising start, her inspiration and motivation waned. In 1939, she traveled from Firenze to Venice, where she found employment as a proofreader with the local newspaper Il Gazzetino. With World War II approaching, Ortese returned to Naples, where she had once lived with her family. It was there that she was once again inspired to write. At the end of the war, Anna worked as a writer for the magazine Sud.

Her parents died in 1950 and 1953. During this time, she published her second and third books: L’infanta Se Polta and Il Mare Non Bagna Napoli. Il Mare Non Bagna Napoli consisted of five chapters which depicted the abject conditions of Naples following the war. It became highly acclaimed and was awarded the Viareggio Prize. It is from the novel's first chapter that the movie Un Paio de Occhiali was made and presented at the Venice Biennale in 2001.

From the mid-1950s to the late '60s, Anna traveled and wrote extensively. She returned to Milan in 1967 and wrote a book, Povertie Semplicchi, for which she was awarded the Strega Prize.[2]

In her later years, Ortese became more isolated until the age of seventy-five, when she moved Rapallo to live with her sister. At the age of 80, she began corresponding with Beppe Costa, who encouraged her to publish Il Treno Russo. Soon after, Anna accepted the proposal to republish many of her old novels. One, L’Iguana, was translated into French by Gallimard in 1988. Another, Il Cordillo Adolorato, topped the Italian fiction list.[3] In 1987, a collection of her short stories, A Music Behind the Wall: Selected Stories, was published.[4]


She died peacefully at the age of 84 in her home in Rapallo in March 1998. Only after her death did her work receive international recognition and praise.[5]


Short stories[edit]

• "Il Pellirossa"

• "Angelici dolori"


Il mare non bagna Napoli

L’infanta sepolta

Il porto di Toledo

Il cardillo addolorato

Silenzio a Milano


Poveri e semplici

Il cappello piumato

Il treno russo

Alonso e i visionari

In sonno e in veglia


• Premio Viareggio, 1953, for "Il Mare non bagna Napoli"

• Premio Strega, 1967, for Poveri e Semplici

• Premio Procida-Elsa Morante, 1998, for In Sonno e in Veglia

• Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger, 1998, for the French edition of Il Cardillo Adolorato (la Douleur du chardonneret)


  1. ^ a b c "Ortese, Anna Maria (1914-1998)". Italian Women Writers, University of Chicago. With an extensive reference section.
  2. ^ Slonim, Marc, Review of Poveri e Semplici, The New York Times Book Review, August 27, 1967, pp. 16, 18, 22-3.
  3. ^ "Anna Maria Ortese", Encyclopædia Britannica.
  4. ^ "Review: A Music Behind the Wall: Selected Stories'". Publishers Weekly, 1 March 1994
  5. ^ Obituary: Anna Maria Ortese. The Independent, 14 March 1998.


  • Reed, Cosetta S. "Biography: Ortese, Anna Maria," N.p., 2004.
  • "Anna Maria Ortese", The Times Literary Supplement, 29 January 1970.