The Olga Ragusa, Ph.D. and Isa Ragusa, Ph.D. Foundation for the Humanities, Inc. (RF) is headquartered in New York, NY, and is a 501 © (3) organization. It promotes the study and appreciation of Italian culture in New York, the US and internationally. The RF organizes lectures, conferences and sponsors short-term fellowships for PhD students or postdocs working on research projects devoted to Italian culture in a transnational and transcultural setting. For specific information please see Programs.
The Olga Ragusa, Ph.D. and Isa Ragusa, Ph.D. Foundation for the Humanities, Inc. (RF) was conceived by Olga (1922-2018) and Isa (1926-2013) Ragusa, two longtime residents of the Village, in New York City, and two academic staples of the community for many decades. Isa (PhD, NYU), was a medieval art historian, specialized in the iconography of illuminated manuscripts, and worked as a research staff member at the Index of Christian Art at Princeton University (https://arthistorians.info/ragusai) for many years. Olga, one of the most prominent scholars of Italian studies of her generation, was for decades Lorenzo Da Ponte Professor and Chair of the Department of Italian studies at Columbia University, where she also earned her PhD (https://www.lavocedinewyork.com/en/people/2018/01/09/in-memory-of-olga-ragusa-an-italian-studies-icon-in-new-york/). The idea of the foundation originated when Isa was still alive, and she enthusiastically supported the plan, giving precious input to its conception, but it was mostly developed and nurtured by her older sister. Their goal was that of leaving a physical and metaphysical space to foster and promote cultural activities on and about Italian culture in New York and beyond, given the city’s proverbial cultural diversity and transnational configuration. Olga and Isa Ragusa themselves had been an integral part of this multifaceted, multicultural and multilingual intellectual scene since their childhood, well before they embarked in their prestigious scholarly careers. Their father, Andrea Ragusa, had been a manager at the Fratelli Treves, the publishing house of some of the most important late 19th-/early 20th-century Italian authors, including Verga, Pirandello, Deledda and D’Annunzio, by the 1920’s all well recognized classics of European literature. He moved to New York City in 1930 to work for a joint venture between Treves and the Treccani encyclopedia, but, one year later, he decided to buy the already established S. F. Vanni Bookstore, keeping its original name. He soon moved it to 30 West 12th Street, in an historical building that would serve as bookstore, office of Vanni publishing (devoted to pedagogical, scholarly, and creative works in Italian and English), an Italian meeting point in the Village, as well as home for the family – Olga and Isa, and their highly refined Austrian mother Anna Borchardt Weiskopf. Vanni was a cultural destination for generations of Italian intellectuals (living in New York or visiting), scholars, students and anyone passionate or interested in Italian books and culture. Vanni’s bookselling and publishing activities are too rich to be fully addressed in this note, as coherently explained in a 2004 book by Olga Ragusa (Andrea Ragusa. Editore-libraio a New York, 1931-1974, Firenze: Fondazione Spadolini Nuova Antologia). 2004 was indeed a momentous date for the Ragusa family, as it marked the closing of the bookstore and the thirtieth anniversary of Andrea Ragusa’s death. Olga’s choice to publish a book about her father in Italian, and with a press named for a journal (Nuova Antologia) associated with many of the authors published by Treves (Verga, Pirandello, Deledda and many other Treves authors collaborated with it), was a significant tribute to her father’s ability to create an intellectual bridge between New York and Italy. Everyone who has lived or spent time in New York at the time, knows that it was almost impossible not to make a pilgrimage to Vanni if in need of an Italian book (the bookstore was briefly revived in 2015, thanks to the efforts of the Centro Primo Levi, at the time hosted in the building).
Olga and Isa grew up in this stimulating international and multilingual intellectual environment, speaking four languages fluently: Italian, English, German and French – and Olga spoke Russian as well; an environment later expanded by their successful academic careers, and their multiple, regular trips to Italy and Europe. The Foundation and its goals are therefore Olga Ragusa’s wishes to continue contributing, even if in small part, to the Italian cultural debate well beyond her passing, leaving something tangible to the world-wide Italian cultural community and the city.
The mission of the Ragusa Foundation (RF) is in line with the founders’ desire, especially that of Olga Ragusa. Since her 1954 PhD dissertation, Mallarmé in Italy. Literary Influence and Critical Response (published in 1957), in fact, she clearly revealed that her approach to Italian culture was undoubtedly transnational, and yet, open to tradition (Mallarmé, in Italy, has been inserted in a longstanding lyric tradition whose archetype is identified with Petrarch), as well as to contemporary matters (her dissertation analyzed authors still alive and active at the time). Concurrently, she demonstrated her determination and predilection for controversial subjects (in Italy, Mallarmé’s symbolist poetics was adverse first during fascism for his lack of traditional rhetoric, and later, during the postwar years, for its lack of realism), and transcultural issues, as Mallarmé’s poetics anticipates the avantgarde association of poetry with visual, musical and spatial arts. The RF, therefore, promotes intellectual activities related to Italian culture in a transcultural and transnational setting. The main goal is that of spreading knowledge as well as inspiring a cultural debate about different aspects of Italian humanistic culture, through scholarly (research projects, conferences, etc.) and creative activities (book/film/art presentations, interviews…). The foundation may co-sponsor events in cooperation with other institutions.
bOARD OF DIRECTORS
Andrea Ciccarelli, President
Paul C. Zacher, Treasurer
Nina E. Stone, Secretary