HarperCollins Speakers Bureau

Joseph Luzzi

Cultural Commentator, Writer, Professor, and Speaker


  • The Presidential Library: Books That Shaped Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Others
  • How to Be a Great Business Leader: Timeless Lessons from Classic Books That Changed the World
  • Five Books That Changed the World
  • A Grand Tour of Italy: Art, Film, Music and Literature
  • From Twain to Toni Morrison: A Literary Journey Through America
  • A Tale of Two Renaissance Men: Steve Jobs and Leonardo Da Vinci
  • The Healing Power of Art
  • The Genius of Shakespeare
  • Are Books Obsolete? The Future of Reading in the Internet Age


New York

Joseph Luzzi is an award-winning author and widely sought after speaker whose recent books include My Two Italies, a New York Times “Editors’ Choice,” and In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, History, and the Mysteries of Love, a Vanity Fair “Must-Read” selection that has been translated into Italian, German, and Korean. He received his PhD from Yale and is Professor of Comparative Literature at Bard College. Luzzi’s honors and awards include a Yale College Teaching Prize, Dante Society of America Essay Prize, and fellowships at the National Humanities Center and Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. An active critic and cultural commentator, Luzzi’s essays and reviews appear frequently in the New York Times, Times Literary Supplement, and Chronicle of Higher Education, among many others. His recent speaking engagements include One Day University, the 92nd Street Y, IVY: The Social University, the Dante Society of America, the Italian Cultural Institute of New York, the University of Rome, Harvard University, Cambridge University, and Villa Il Palmerino in Florence, Italy.

Luzzi's presentations include:

The Presidential Library: Books That Shaped Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Others: In this new brand new presentation, award-winning Literature Professor Joseph Luzzi will guide audiences through a fascinating “Presidents’ Library,” as we explore the books that shaped six of the most powerful men ever to sit in the Oval Office. We will discuss why George Washington was obsessed with a play about a Roman freedom fighter who opposed Julius Caesar; how Thomas Jefferson came to have the largest personal library in the country; what drew Abraham Lincoln to Shakespeare so obsessively (and which Shakespeare play he loved most); which British poet Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorized as a child and read throughout his life; why John F. Kennedy was devoted to a spy novelist whose books would create one of the greatest film franchises in history; and how Barack Obama came to understand his American identity and spirit through two favorite authors. Together, we will see how presidential action and presidential reading are intimately linked, as we explore the momentous events in these presidents’ lives in light of the books that inspired their thoughts and guided their actions. Professor Luzzi will also summarize his “ALL” (American Library List) detailing the sometimes surprising books and literature, which influenced many other U. S. leaders.

How to Be a Great Business Leader: Timeless Lessons from Classic Books That Changed the World: What can business leaders today learn from some of the greatest books ever written? Why have world-changing entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Peter Thiel passionately turned to literature for their groundbreaking innovations? In this unique first presentation, Joseph Luzzi, winner of the Yale College Teaching Prize and New York Times “Editors’ Choice” author, shows how literature can provide "case studies" for effective leadership, idea generation, conflict resolution, and better understanding of commercial cultures. His "10 Commandments” for the world of business will analyze how history’s premier minds, from Dante and Machiavelli to Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Nietzsche, can spark essential entrepreneurial insights for our global marketplace.

Five Books That Changed the World: What books are a must for every lover of literature? Award-winning scholar, teacher, and New York Times “Editors’ Choice” author Professor Joseph Luzzi will explore this question with participants in an intimate seminar devoted to exploring the riches of literary expression. We will discuss such renowned classics as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and Joseph Heller’s Catch 22—as well as a few other literary surprises. Professor Luzzi will show how these fascinating works help us understand some of the most pressing concerns today, including the nature of religious faith, questions of personal identity, even the quest for the American Dream. Participants will be encouraged to develop their own list of ‘essential reading,” as Professor Luzzi helps them acquire the skills necessary for enriching their encounters with books of all kinds.

A Grand Tour of Italy: Art, Film, Music and Literature:

You may have the universe, if I may have Italy. —Giuseppe Verdi

Anyone who is familiar with Italy—its glorious architecture, epic history, exquisite fine arts, and majestic landscape understands Verdi’s passionate words above. For centuries, Italy has been an irresistible magnet for people from all corners of the world, attracting the most illustrious men and women of every age as well as visitors from every walk of life. Today, it remains a very special mecca—uplifting, fascinating, and enchanting all who travel there. But what is behind Italy’s remarkable appeal? What makes this country such an inexhaustible place of discovery, unforgettable to so many? Award-winning author, teacher, and Italian scholar Joseph Luzzi leads participants on a whirlwind tour of Italy's “greatest cultural hits,” as we explore the fascinating world of Italian art, music, film, architecture, literature, and even food and wine. We will learn how Italy has been a “grand tour” travel destination for centuries as we discover the fine art of living, Italian style.

From Twain to Toni Morrison: A Literary Journey Through America: What does it mean to be “American”? What are the books that have had the greatest impact on U.S. history and culture? This presentation will lead audiences through the fascinating world of American literature, as we explore how masterpieces ranging from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury to Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and Philip Roth’s American Pastoral reveal the characters and conflicts of the American spirit.

A Tale of Two Renaissance Men: Steve Jobs and Leonardo Da Vinci: In two recently acclaimed biographies, Walter Isaacson pointed out the parallels between the towering geniuses of Renaissance artist Leonardo Da Vinci and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Jobs. In this talk, winner of the Yale College Teaching Award and New York Times “Editors’ Choice” author Joseph Luzzi explores in depth the fascinating connections between these two world-changers separated by centuries but linked by common creative and intellectual qualities. Luzzi will show what Renaissance typographer inspired Steve Jobs to create Apple’s legendary interface, and how like Leonardo he sought to combine many fields and disciplines—from architecture and design to art and literature—in creating what is now the world’s largest and most profitable company in world history.

The Healing Power of Art: How can the great books of the past help us through life’s greatest challenges? How can a beautifully written story provide an indispensable guide to the biggest questions we face? And how can a magnificent writer’s wisdom provide hope and healing when we most need it? Drawing on the experiences described in his memoir In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love, Joseph Luzzi (New York Times Editors’ Choice” author) will explore how we can see literature as the greatest means we have for love, relationships, aging, and other defining elements of our personal lives that, he will propose, can find breathtaking expression on the written page.

The Genius of Shakespeare: Where would we be without Shakespeare? The romantic love of the “star-crossed” Romeo and Juliet, the Oedipal complex of the eternally indecisive Hamlet, the “vaulting ambition” (Shakespeare’s phrase) of the tortured Macbeth…all of these characters and so many more are an integral part of our collective memories. Shakespeare’s surviving works consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems embedded into the plays themselves. It is indeed impossible to imagine the English language and Western literature without Shakespeare, who many believe to be the greatest writer of all time. However we rank him, one thing is certain: when we read Shakespeare we encounter genius; an inventiveness and intellectual energy that will change our understanding of language—and literature—forever.

Are Books Obsolete? The Future of Reading in the Internet Age: In this brand new presentation, award-winning Literature Professor Joseph Luzzi explores one of the most intriguing questions Americans face today: are books, the act of reading itself, becoming “yesterday’s news”? Studies show that Americans consume three hours of social media a day, compared to the nineteen minutes they read daily. Meanwhile, our kids read only eight minutes a day while averaging a full hour playing video games, and last year one in four Americans did not read a single book, a three hundred percent increase in illiteracy from thirty years ago. What are the technological changes that are relegating reading and books to the margins? How are “images” and “media” replacing “classics” and “great books”? And what, if any, is the place of great literature in the 21st century and beyond? Professor Luzzi will explore all these questions and more as together we confront the fascinating question of what our children and grandchildren will (and will not) be reading in the cultural revolution sparked by the Internet Age.

Luzzi is a frequent contributor of essays and reviews to publications including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Bookforum, the London Times Literary Supplement, and many others. He has had a variety of experience speaking to audiences at universities, historical societies, organizations with strong ties to Italy and Italian culture, and groups interested in literature and film. The recipient of the Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies award from the Modern Language Association, his work has been translated into both Italian and Portuguese.

Currently, Luzzi resides in New York.

Praise for Joseph Luzzi:

"At One Day University we work with over 200 different professors, and Joseph Luzzi is one of the very best. His ability to connect with any audience and explain complex material in an interesting and accessible way is quite remarkable. Plus, he has substantial expertise in so many areas (literature, film, history, language, etc.) that I can honestly say Professor Luzzi is a 'Renaissance Man' "
--Steven Schragis, Founder/Director, One Day University

Praise from Audience at One Day University:
From Audience Members:

“Prof. Luzzi’s presentation was brilliant and inspiring!...Thank you for the wonderful opportunity to keep learning!”

“Last night's presentation was just outstanding. It is no wonder that Professor Luzzi is a favorite at Bard; I would LOVE to hear another of his lectures. The lecture’s concept and content were so timely, but his presentation skills were what made it all-the-more fascinating.”

“Professor Luzzi certainly illustrated the theme that ‘good readers make good leaders’. He needs to take a permanent position as a cabinet member for every President!”

“Professor Luzzi was amazing. He offered us a great synthesis of history, literature, and politics.”

“I loved his energy, his knowledge and how he presented his material…I would sign up for other courses with Professor Luzzi!”

“Best Ever! Bring him back...”

“Perfect style and delivery.”

“Professor Luzzi was outstanding. Enjoyed every minute of it.”

“So informative. We would definitely take another of Luzzi 's courses. He is so passionate about his subject—and funny!”

“Prof Luzzi was outstanding. This was our first experience with One Day University, and it has whetted our appetite for mire. Joe Luzzi will be hard to beat!”

“Last night's presentation with Joseph Luzzi was OUTSTANDING! Please bring him back for more!”

“Absolutely wonderful. Could have listened for hours.”

“Dr. Luzzi was an excellent speaker and this was my favorite lecture of the 8-10 lectures I’ve heard through One Day University.”

"As an educator and author, Joseph Luzzi, represents brilliance, charm, elegance, and formidable knowledge.  His enthusiasm for literature, especially Dante, is intoxicating and awe-inspiring.  One has the feeling, whether hearing or reading him, of the deep passion and profound appreciation he possesses on a dazzling variety of subjects.  His felicity of language in conveying his insights and observations is exemplary!  RoundTable Cultural Seminars, an adult education organization, is honored to be one of the recipients of his extraordinary intellect. "
--Nancy Becker and Adriana Mnuchin, RoundTable Cultural Seminars

"Joseph is an excellent speaker, with great knowledge, insight, and enthusiasm about his topics.  During that particular presentation, attendees had a better understanding of Italian films, their directors, the purpose of particular scenes and how they relate to the story and its visual impact.  In addition, Joseph speaks and writes from the heart. He is able to relate to his audience and he is humble.  I think that comes from his upbringing and his experiences in life. I loved MY TWO ITALIES and I look forward to reading IN A DARK WOOD."
--Camille Spicola, President, Italian American Historical Society of Rhode Island

"Joseph is a natural speaker who connects well with audiences. He is personable and pleasant to work with and our attendees have always responded positively to him. His extensive knowledge of Italian history, literature, art and cinema infuses his presentations, yet he makes his subjects easily accessible to listeners who may not be familiar with them. In the Dante program, for example, he spoke of how difficult he initially found Dante's work, since understanding it depended dauntingly on knowing other literature and history of the era. He described the rewards of his perseverance with contagious enthusiasm. In the cinema talk, he illuminated several classic Italian movies, showing us pivotal scenes from each, and setting them all in historical context. Every event we have scheduled has been well received and I would happily recommend him as a speaker to any venue that might be considering him."
--Jessica Wilson, Program Librarian, South Kingstown Public Library/Peace Dale

“We had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Luzzi at the Casa Colombo Center for the Arts last year. He spoke about his wonderful book, My Two Italies and read passages as well. The audience thoroughly enjoyed not only what he said, but his presentation. There was an abundance of smiling, nodding heads throughout, and he was forced to remain quite late to answer questions, sign books, and speak personally to us all. His presentation was articulate, humorous, and moving. We are happy to know that he has a new book!"
--Fran DePalma, Program Chair, and Dr. Louis Iozzi, Chariman of the Board, Casa Colombo Center for the Arts

Praise for In a Dark Wood:

"Powerful and indispensable, Joseph Luzzi unites emotion and ideas in a work that defies categorization, except for the category marked 'brilliant'. If every academic wrote like this, the humanities would be prospering."
--Gary Shteyngart, New York Times bestselling author of Little Failure and Super Sad True Love Story

"Joseph Luzzi lived through something terrible, and has made something beautiful. In a Dark Wood is a memoir of love and loss; but more than that, it is a powerful testimony to the consolation---even salvation---than an engagement with great literature can supply."
--Rebecca Mead, author of My Life in Middlemarch

"Luzzi's story is intensely personal, but holds universal appeal for anyone who has experienced love and loss. As he grasps blindly for routes out of his personal underworld, both he and the reader discover that only a change of mind and heart can open the way to love and fulfillment."

"Luzzi honestly grapples with profound questions about being a man and father in this very literary and very personal work."
--Publisher's Weekly 

"A forthright chronicle of emergence from darkness."
--Kirkus Reviews

In a Dark Wood conveys an engrossing struggle to build a life after enormous personal loss and the luminous power of literature to transform sorrow’s exile into a kind of blessing.”
--The New York Journal of Books

“You say you’ve not read The Divine Comedy…. It doesn’t matter. Luzzi writes with the economy and flair of a novelist…[and] we travel deep inside the emotional process by which the poet [Dante] used his imagination to construct a narrative to deal with grief. …Luzzi makes it all personal when he twines his historical analysis…with his own dark emotional terrain.”