Slow Words in Italy: Meet Diana Marrone

Slow Words founder Diana Marrone
Slow Words founder Diana Marrone seeks the “hidden poetry” in life. Photo courtesy of Danilo Capasso.

Venice-based Diana Marrone started Slow Words in 2012 as a hybrid of literary fanzine and readers club that celebrates poems, songs and a wide range of other creative writing. She describes it as a “very horizontal gathering” where authors share their work and meet their readers live while readers are encouraged to participate and express themselves. Marrone and I recently compared notes on how Slow philosophy influences our respective cultures in Italy and the U.S. In this Q&A, she talks about the Slow Words publishing philosophy, some favorite interviews, and the intriguing notion of “dandy resistance.”

What inspired you to start Slow Words: People and Stories from this World? How does the project relate to your personal identity, your life philosophy, and your other creative work?

I wanted to create a space devoted to the act of reading and exploring, with calm and with slowness. As per trade, I’m a journalist, a design curator and a media officer/PR [specialist]. Knowing the media from the production side of the industry, I’m often horrified to see what happens there. I wanted to stand for the dignity of the reader, for the non-profit side of life.

I wanted to trace the way people dwell at any latitude, to find and tell stories which will never be found in traditional media. I seek the hidden poetry in lives. From the migrant who told us about his path to viable freedom to the choreographer who changed his life as a biologist to follow his dreams… [Slow Words] focus on ‘worlds inventors’ who are turning words and signs into published works: poets, journalists, songwriters, screenplay authors, composers.

These portraits as a whole help me to configure how a ‘lateral’ mankind – buried under an enormous amount of fake models of existence – still persists. In its peculiar treats, two [traits that they hold] in common are slowness and ‘dandy resistance’. (Dandy resistance is a way of opposing something with a certain style, like a dandy. ‘Dandy’ for me is someone who chooses timeless and sometimes priceless options. Someone with a very detailed style coming from the Belle Epoque or a mod or a 1930ish look can be ‘dandy.’ It all depends on the spirit and personality of the person.)

I’m not alone in this venture. Many friends love this scheme of joy/truth dispensation and suggest people to interview. Many of them also conduct interviews themselves, with their own personal touch. A bunch of questions are always present: the book they are reading, the music they are listening to, their secret place where they go to slow down.

The palimpsest of Slow Words is of three types. There is a weekly suggestion (an interview, two poems, a short story — these latter often unpublished; we also launch a newsletter every Thursday). There is self construction via tags; readers can search for ‘American Poetry’ or ‘Readers’ Club’ or ‘Kraftwerk’ to open all the interviews or texts including [those terms]. The last path is a pictorial ‘choice’ which often involves exhibitions I’ve seen or special places I’ve visited. It’s a way to use Slow Words as a travel blog via pics and also to involve people who like long reads less.

Slow Words for me is ‘TV for those who do not watch TV anymore’. My preferred reading diet is to dream and think at the same time. Slowly, once a week: our stories do not have expiration dates.

What are three of your favorite interviews for Slow Words so far? Why did you enjoy talking with and writing about those people?

Let’s try to select a few (three is impossible!) from different continents and genders. From the US: the story of Galen DeKemper, a young indie publisher who comes from the skateboard culture and makes self-printed erotic fanzines of his milieu in his tiny Chinatown room. The interview took place in a very funny, cheap and strictly Muslim NY delicatessen. I had encountered his fanzines – called One Dollar Stories – in Paris in an art exhibition months and months earlier.

From Venice (where I’m based), two stories of unstoppable love seekers and romance addicts: Pascal, a French hairdresser who chose Venice as his ‘home away from home.’ And the story of Marco-Isa, a transexual engineer who changed his and her gender twice. If you follow our tag on ‘Venice’ you will discover a totally differently textured city than you would ever have imagined!

From Australia: the story of Tattoo Tim, a man who turned to be a life-size artwork. [Tim sold his own body to a collector, for display in a gallery both before and after his death.]

The last story is from the Middle East, about a Syrian screenplay writer and director, Soudade Kaadan. It was told during a special month dedicated to the ‘female touch’ in writing for cinema, in which we hosted stories of this kind from other places and genres.

Slow Food is such a popular movement in Italy, as well as throughout the world. What influence do you see Slow philosophy having on Italian cultural production, beyond food?

Slow Food is now a bit of an ‘emperor’ here in food and general lifestyle trends — including the learning system, with dedicated courses and universities. It has been great to instill in people the value of forgotten produce and to boost preservation of local food traditions. We hope it will not be too over-merchandised in the future.

There is a strong need for this approach in some areas of the world. Some European Union laws are de facto destroying local food traditions for the sake of a more standardized (aka industrialized) approach in the food industry. We stand against that!

‘Slow’ culture outside the Slow Food path and industry is still a niche. Of course, the slow aptitude is very far from mainstream in the news industry, too. There is something good arising from tour operators promoting the ‘slow’ approach in contrast with fast-mass tourism. Especially in lands like Italy, this choice helps preserve the beauty and livability of small centers.

Slow Words, like most Slow projects, is founded on the Internet and promoted through social media. Yet some people think Slowness is opposed to digital media, that it’s nostalgic or backwards-looking. How do you view the relationship between Slow Words and new technology?

Paper and distribution are really very expensive, whereas the Internet can give voice to many little makers.

Our online philosophy is far from the dominant internet advertising ‘chain.’ We do not advertise ourselves, except through word of mouth and genuine links with foundations, places, bars, theatres and festivals.

We’re on social networks but we never ask people to ‘like’ our page. We personally write to anyone who does like it, talking with them and asking why. It’s a lot of work. Why are we still present on social networks? We fish for readers: not for our metrics but for our core business, which is to restore the dignity of quality reading. We are glad for casual, slow encounters happening in a slow way through our website.

For example: An American nun who took care of a dying British soldier in a military base in Afghanistan found out he was still alive via our pages. He turned out to have become a successful writer, after healing: Harry Parker. She wrote him a fantastic letter after the interview was published because she wanted to find out about his upcoming book launch.

There was also a French publisher who read an unpublished set of poems by an US-French writer based in Italy whom we had interviewed. Months and months later they published the poems in a nice book.

The list is long. We are slowly enjoying such sparks of hope from our little, real, tireless window on this world.