Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Book News: The Elusive Elena Ferrante Finally Speaks — Sort Of

When it comes to picturing Elena Ferrante, readers have even less material than they do on Thomas Pynchon. They'll have to continue to settle for stock photography such as this, a shot of her native Naples, Italy.
When it comes to picturing Elena Ferrante, readers have even less material than they do on Thomas Pynchon. They'll have to continue to settle for stock photography such as this, a shot of her native Naples, Italy.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

This much is known about the Italian novelist Elena Ferrante: She is native to Naples, she is the author of seven novels, and she has a name — a name that is not, in fact, Elena Ferrante. Behind this pseudonym, the writer has released a string of novels that have brought her acclaim both in Italy and the English-speaking world, including a nod as one of NPR's favorite books of the year. Despite this success, the writer has remained in the shadow of her pen name; the Ferrante that readers know lives only in her books.

As a New York Times profile notes:

"In an interview conducted by email and through her publisher, she disputed the oft-circulated notion that she might be a man. 'My identity, my sex, are found in my writing,' Ms. Ferrante wrote in Italian in response to written questions conveyed by her longtime Italian publisher, Sandra Ozzola Ferri, who said the writer had declined to grant an in-person interview."

Recently, though, the Times managed to nab a rare Q&A with Ferrante — on the condition that the conversation be written, with her publisher acting as intermediary. While she declined to give a glimpse of Oz behind the curtain, Ferrante nonetheless offers a window onto her life, her autobiographical tendencies in writing and, of course, the nature of her "absence."

"I didn't choose anonymity; the books are signed. Instead, I chose absence," Ferrante writes. "More than 20 years ago I felt the burden of exposing myself in public. I wanted to detach myself from the finished story. I wanted the books to assert themselves without my patronage."

'Survivors Have The Right To Tell Their Stories': Lena Dunham has written a response to the recent clamor over "Barry," the pseudonym used in her book Not That Kind of Girl for the man she says sexually assaulted her. After a case of mistaken identity, Dunham's publisher promised to clarify in future editions that the name is indeed a pseudonym and not the name of the man himself.

In a response published in Buzzfeed, Dunham asserts that in writing the essay, it was never the name that mattered. She says it was about giving voice to her experience for the sake of others who experienced similar trauma.

"Speaking out was never about exposing the man who assaulted me. Rather, it was about exposing my shame, letting it dry out in the sun," Dunham writes. She adds: "At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what is written about me individually. I accept the realities of being in the public eye. But I simply cannot allow my story to be used to cast doubt on other women who have been sexually assaulted."

Auction Blocked: The auction of a letter that helped inspire Jack Kerouac's On the Road has been "canceled indefinitely" due to a tussle over its ownership, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The letter, a note written to Kerouac by his friend and muse Neal Cassady, had long been thought lost, dropped overboard a house boat by a friend of Allen Ginsberg. Yet even after its dramatic rediscovery, the "Joan Anderson Letter," as it's come to be known, is reportedly now in troubled waters of another kind: an ownership dispute between the estates of Kerouac and Cassady, with the auction house Profiles in History caught in the middle.

"People think Jack and Neal, best of friends, would be spinning in their graves over this," Beat Museum owner Jerry Cimino tells the Chronicle.

'Torture Report' To Hit Bookshelves: The publisher Melville House has announced its plans to publish the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee's "Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program" — otherwise known as the "torture report." The report, which concludes that the CIA had conducted torture and misled both the White House and Congress, was released to the public Tuesday. Melville House expects to have The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture in bookstores on Dec. 30.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Colin Dwyer
Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.