I recently had the pleasure of speaking to my friend and author Idanna Pucci about her book, The Lady of Sing Sing, an extraordinary, operatic tale, published by Simon & Schuster in March, 2020. The book details the 1895 campaign waged by Idanna’s American great grandmother to save the life of a young Italian immigrant––Maria Barbella––who was the first woman ever sentenced to die in the electric chair.
I edited my interview to enable Idanna to speak for herself:
“I’m like a snail: I carry my home inside my body so I can easily move from one place to another. Am I a citizen of the world? Yes, I feel I am. No doubt that’s why, at 18, I happily left Florence and went to New York to work for my uncle, fashion designer Emilio Pucci. It was a unique experience, one which I will always cherish. But after two years, and in spite of deep admiration and affection for my uncle––whom I viewed as an extraordinary role model of pure creativity, imagination, hard work, and zest for life––I decided to pursue my passion for anthropology and the oral tradition. I departed for South East Asia, and more particularly Indonesia. That was a turning point of my life.
Traveling throughout the archipelago, observing different beliefs, customs, and traditions, and later, living among the Balinese people, immersed in the culture, provided me with a whole new frame of reference––a less emotional, less impulsive, less Mediterranean way of being. It gave me a sense of how varied the world is and therefore how wrong it is to have preconceived ideas or the desire to impose one’s own will and views on others. It gave me an education for life!
I am interested in people whose lives are an inspiration, however simple. Real stories drive me forward. When I was in late teens and early twenties, I was drawn to reading and writing fiction. But then, slowly, that changed because life itself is so much more extraordinary and surprising than what imagination can unveil.
The Lady of Sing Sing came about because I discovered––quite by chance and tucked in the bottom drawer of an old family chest––a little booklet, bound in recycled paper, written by my great-grandfather in 1920. After a brief mention of his adored American wife, my elusive great-grandmother, he wrote about a young Italian immigrant and her confinement on death row for the murder of a man who had raped and abused her with the promise of love. The year was 1895.
Fascinated by those few paragraphs, I immersed myself in five years of research. As in a treasure hunt, astonishing events surfaced, revolving around the themes of immigration, domestic violence, women’s rights, the role of the press, corporate greed, broken criminal justice, and the death penalty.
This experience confirmed my belief that each of us has within the capacity to “move mountains”. Yes, I’m convinced that most people, given the right circumstances, can really make a difference.
We all carry in our DNA traits of our ancestors, information that passes on from one generation to the next. We carry their souls with us so how can we ignore who has come before? Engaging in this kind of search is a great adventure. You might think, ‘Oh there is nothing special in my family.’ But if you really give it time, you might discover, as I did, something quite extraordinary, just waiting to be unveiled.
In moments of uncertainty or distress, the process of delving into one’s own history can put is in touch with something much larger than ourselves.”
To order The Lady of Sing Sing, visit: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-Lady-of-Sing-Sing/Idanna-Pucci/9781982139315