NABOKV-L post 0006150, Fri, 7 Sep 2001 09:48:06 -0700

Sylvia Poggioli, Daughter of Renato (fwd)

From: Galya Diment <>

This may be of interest to the list. The piece is about NPR's Sylvia
Poggioli whose father was Renato Poggioli, a comparativist at Harvard who
got the position there in 1946 that Nabokov himself was hoping for.
Whenever the Nabokovs were in Boston they saw the Poggiolis socially
(something their daughter obviously remembers). Poggioli was a fan
of Pasternak and that did not sit well with VN who wrote to Harry
Levin in the summer of 1959 (when Dr. Zhivago's was still competing with
Lolita): "I cannot believe that Poggioli really believes that Pasternak,
whose version of HAMLET is a farce, is capable of translating Shakespeare"
(SL, 294).

This piece appeared in the Boston Globe -- it's a lengthy article but I am
just including the parts that mention Nabokov and also talk some about
Sylvia's parents.

'This is Sill-vee-yah Poh-DJOH-lee'

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 8/28/2001

ROME - Here in the homeland of her parents, she is just another woman with a
lot of vowels and a double consonant in her name. People don't wander around
aping her pronunciation of that name, fans don't name restaurants after her,
and no one besieges radio executives with requests for information about her

But as she hunches over a laptop and microphone in the studio in her
apartment's attic, recording a story for National Public Radio about a
meeting of cardinals at the Vatican, she wraps up by transmitting across the
Atlantic perhaps the most mimicked sign off in radio: ''In Rome, this is
Sylvia Poggioli.''

The name that has launched a thousand imitations rolls out of a voice that
is part Tuscany and part Cambridge, deepened by cigarettes and toughened by
life. The syllables are more elongated and lyrical than expected by an
American ear; the vowels a tad harder and the consonants a bit softer. From
her perch above the Tiber, in the trendy Trastevere neighborhood, Poggioli,
55, professes to be mystified about why so many listeners are fascinated by
her name.

''It amuses me, but I'm also perplexed a little by it,'' she says. ''People
just tell me they love the way I say my name.''

She is at once an Italian-American and an American-Italian, an American
daughter of Italian anti-Fascists who has chosen to spend her adult life in
the country her parents fled.

Poggioli was raised in the smoky salons of Cambridge's immigrant
intelligentsia and educated among the elite at the Buckingham School for

Her parents, Renato and Renata Poggioli, had fled their homeland in the
1930s, when Renato was barred from his teaching career for refusing to sign
a Fascist party card. A polyglot who spoke seven languages, Renato taught
comparative literature, first at Smith College in Northampton, then at Brown
University in Providence (where Sylvia was born), and finally at Harvard.
Renata taught Spanish literature at Brown, and later helped establish the
classics department at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

''I remember these dinner parties where there were all these foreign
accents, and there were always ladies with cigarette holders from Poland and
Russia, and everybody was very dramatic and it was all this Marlene Dietrich
sort of world,'' says Poggioli, who recalls meeting philosopher Isaiah
Berlin, poet Robert Lowell, novelist Vladimir Nabokov, and literary critic
Edmund Wilson at her childhood home. ''But I was an American teenager, too.
I liked Elvis Presley.''

Everything changed in 1963. The Poggioli family was driving through northern
California to take Sylvia, a 16-year-old high school junior, to visit Reed
College. As they approached the Oregon border, another car smashed into

Renato died within a week. Renata was seriously injured. Sylvia was
physically unharmed.

Sylvia attended Radcliffe so she could live at home and help her mother
recover. She studied romance languages, focusing on French literature,
attended antiwar protests, and had no idea what she would do once she

Then, in 1968, as campuses around the world revolted, Poggioli graduated
from Harvard and went to Rome as a Fulbright Scholar.

She never moved back.

Poggioli says her Italian pronunciation comes from her parents, who refused
to speak English at home because they were embarrassed by their accent.
Throughout her childhood, she spoke English to them, and they spoke Italian
to her.