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Chicago Author Spotlight: Tony Romano

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 9, 2010 4:20PM

If You Eat, You Never Die: Chicago Tales by Tony Romano
Tony Romano's If You Eat, You Never Die: Chicago Tales tells the story of an Italian American family. Each family member approaches his or her Italian heritage and future in America differently. And so the story of the Italian Comingos turned American Cummings contains many stories. Teenage Giacomo, who is insistent on losing weight to compete in a wrestling match, tells the first chapter. Another is told in the broken English of Lucia, his strong-willed mother. The stories of older brother Michelino, who as an adult changes his family name back to Comingo, and father Fabio, a barber who lacks ambition, play out, too. The patchwork story that emerges from If You Eat, You Never Die, speaks of each character's relationship with heritage and capacity for unconditional love, grief, and strength. We spoke with Chicago-based author Tony Romano about If You Eat, You Never Die and what being a writer is all about.

Tony Romano discusses his novel If You Eat, You Never Die: Chicago Tales tonight at 6:30 p.m. He will be at Chicago Public Library's West Belmont branch at 3104 N. Narragansett Ave. The event is free. Visit his website for other information regarding his work.

C: In the book, the title signifies the words of the mother of the family, Lucia. Does the saying "If You Eat, You Never Die" come from something your mother said?

Tony Romano: It's something my father used to say and still says. If you look back at the ordinary moments of your life, you find these sublime lines, these artistic lines. I don't know if it makes any sense, but to his culture and to our culture it makes sense. To be able to show the cover to my dad… he was thrilled and a little stunned. Just to get that recognition. Those are his words.

C: What about the subtitle, Chicago Tales? Could this book have taken place anywhere else?

TR: I've heard some people say that it could take place somewhere else. I grew up in Chicago and I think you need to be familiar with your setting. The thing about Chicago is that there are a lot of hard workers, and you don't get anything given to you. I think that comes through in the characters more than the place.

C: Does your work draw inspiration from Chicago? How are you tied to the city?

TR: I always looked at Chicago as being made up of all these small towns. Especially as a kid you have all these boundaries, and all you know is one or two streets. I knew everyone on my block and knew everyone's business. And growing up in a city of millions, I felt like I knew everyone. As a kid, it was a good place to grow up. I felt safe and watched over. We didn't need adults to organize our activities. It was part of our education.

C: What do you do when you aren't writing or teaching high school students?

TR: I organize this week at school called writer's week where I bring in writers from all around the country. The writers end up on the summer reading list and we do some of it in class. It sends the message to kids that writing is not just some 5-paragraph essay you are going to write for an SAT exam. Writing is written by living breathing people. It's the best week at school for the kids.

C: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

TR: Discipline. No matter how hard things are going, you need to write every day or nearly every day. I went through years of rejection. I took me five or six years to find an agent. During all that time, I was writing. And persistence. Once you do the writing, you have to be stupid about sending it out to be rejected. Regardless of how the world of publishing is changing, discipline and persistence are critical.