Milan is a key player in Italian literary culture, both because it is home to large publishing groups and several independent publishing companies, and because many writers who have lived or have stayed there have described an unusually exciting city, due to events and literature.
Literary Milan has always been in step with the times and a bearer of novelty: from the vernacular to the dialect, from the nineteenth century to the present day, Milan has always offered the opportunity to experiment with different kinds of language and here cultural movements of great relevance have followed one another.
Creating literature in Milan: telling a story and making culture
Creating literature means making culture and telling a story. In the words of Dino Buzzati and Luciano Bianciardi, Milan during the economic boom of the 1960s was fascinating but often cold and unjust, while the noirs of Giorgio Scerbanenco evoke the history of a troubled and mysterious metropolis.
Literature is also a vehicle for building social awareness, as demonstrated by Elio Vittorini, who hoped for a new sensitivity after the horrors of the Second World War. On the contrary, it was through satire and irony that the jester Dario Fo, Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1997 and great protagonist of Italian theatre, decided to represent Milan and society.
Following the traces of Milan's literary places
Visiting Milan, Mark Twain marvelled at the solemnity of the Duomo, describing it as "a poem carved in marble"; Ernest Hemingway, wounded on the front of the Piave, found shelter there and the inspiration that led to A Farewell to Arms, a partially autobiographical novel in which a fascinating Milan is described with some of its most significant places.
The literary places of Milan are landmarks for those who want to discover the city through the events told in books. The stories of the minor Milanese crime of the early XX century (la ligera) and of the so-called "black Milan", for example, are set in what were at that time the limits of the city, between Corso Buenos Aires and Piazza Leonardo. A united Milan, a divided Milan: the Vialba district and its "Fabbricone" on the contrary inspired writer and playwright Giovanni Testori who told of events on the margins of society, between minor delinquency and a strong desire for change.
If you want to discover all the literary places in Milan and enjoy those steps that are so thrilling on paper, you can be inspired by the itineraries collected in the Literary Map of Milan, an interactive guide that helps you to geolocate on a map the events of the stories set in Milan, reliving them on site while also indicating new places and routes.
Following the traces of literary Milan, the most significant literary sites include Alessandro Manzoni's house and the Alda Merini space, a reconstruction of the her apartment just a stone's throw from the former home of the "poetess of the Navigli".
A book in Milan? Libraries, literary cafés and above all Bookcity
As already mentioned, Milan is known for the large publishing groups that are based there, but the literature is animated mainly by independent publishing companies that form the precious undergrowth in the vast urban cultural sea, for example Eleuthera, Iperborea, Marcos Y Marcos and Terre di Mezzo. In addition to the many stores owned by Feltrinelli and Mondadori, one of the symbols of the Italian capital of publishing is the Hoepli International Bookshop, which has been popularising culture for generations in its historic store just a stone's throw from the Duomo.
In Milan there are also numerous municipal libraries. Among the historical treasures of the city are the Braidense National Library at the University of Brera, the Sormani, that is the Central Municipal Library in Corso di Porta Vittoria, and the Ambrosian Library, founded in 1607. The sharing of culture is also fuelled by bookcrossing, i.e. the free circulation and exchange of books between readers, who can leave and borrow volumes in the many locations that support the initiative.
A very successful proposal is that of literary cafés, places where you can leaf through a good book and drink something in an intimate atmosphere that seems like home. Colibri, the Libreria del mondo offeso, Gogol & Company or the LibrOsteria are some of the most popular literary cafés in Milan, along with the Osteria dell'Utopia and the Moleskine Cafè, a name which refers to the tradition of the famous writers' notebook.
The desire for literature in Milan never ends. In November 2019, the popular Bookcity Milano event, one of the main cultural initiatives in Milan will take place, precisely from 13 to 17. Bookcity is a large book fair with meetings with authors, presentations and readings that has taken place for the past eight years in the most diverse spaces and involving every type of reader.
As Aldo Novewould say, to get to know Milan you need to have the patience to pay attention to it: "Because there are so many things in Milan. All those that aren't in the other places. They're there. Things. That's why people go to Milan."