HarperCollins Speakers Bureau

Joseph Luzzi

Cultural Commentator, Writer, Professor, and Speaker


  • Life After Death--A Literary Survival Guide
  • Finding Fatherhood
  • The 21st-Century Curriculum: A Look Ahead (and Back)
  • From Twain to Toni Morrison: A Literary Journey Through America
  • Banned Books and Other Literary Scandals
  • How Reading Literature Can Lead to Effective Leadership
  • Literature as a Source of Innovation and Idea-Generation
  • Understanding Local and Global Culture through Literature
  • Entrepreneurship in a Historical Perspective
  • Italy: An Ancient Culture in the Modern, Globalized World


New York

Joseph Luzzi has placed Dante as the focus of his teaching and writing for over twenty years. A writer and professor of Italian at Bard College, Luzzi has lectured throughout the world on art, film, and literature.

A memoir of grief and healing divided into three parts, In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love (HarperWave) traces Luzzi’s journey through Dante’s The Divine Comedy and his story of personal loss. The first part, “The Underworld,” follows Luzzi’s descent into grief and his examination of Dante’s accounts of early exile. In the second, “Purgatorio,” Luzzi explores how Dante found the will to carry on and how he himself began to find hidden opportunities in everyday life. In the last part, Luzzi shares his gratitude towards family members who set aside their lives in his time of need, as well as his experience of meeting the woman who would become his wife and mother to his daughter. His memoir is both a personal odyssey and a reminder of the power of great literature in the darkest of times.

Luzzi's presentations include:

Life After Death--A Literary Survival Guide: Where do we turn when we lose everything? Luzzi faced this question in 2007, when his pregnant Katherine died in a car accident--forty-five minutes before giving birth to their daughter Isabel, miraculously rescued by an emergency cesarean. In the years that followed, Luzzi turned to Dante's great poem The Divine Comedy to help him survive the brutal grief and mourning. Luzzi's talk will show how we can use great works of art like Dante's as a way of handling life's great crises.

Finding Fatherhood: How do you become a dad in the real sense of the word? This talk discusses Luzzi's journey from biological fatherhood to learning how to truly raise and care for his daughter Isabel, after she was born on the same day that her mother died in a fatal car accident. Luzzi will discuss the different role models that fathers turn to today, and how they can balance the demands of modern family life in ways that differ from earlier generations – and earlier models of what it means to be "a man" as well as a parent.

The 21st-Century Curriculum: A Look Ahead (and Back): What books should college students be reading today? What is the right curriculum for our technological age? This talk will argue that, in fact, now is the perfect time to bring the great books – that we should put Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and other classic works in dialogue with the new forms of digitally based learning that are increasingly shaping our educational policies.

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 participants through the fascinating world of American literary history, as we consider how masterpieces from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury to Toni Morrison's Beloved, Philip Roth's American Pastoral, and Joseph Heller's Catch-22 reveal the character and conflicts of the American spirit.

Banned Books and Other Literary Scandals: What do books as diverse as JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, and George Orwell's Animal Farm have in common? At one point they were all banned for their controversial content, even though they are now celebrated as literary classics. We will explore the complex universe of banned books, as we see how writers from James Joyce to Alice Walker have been barred from literary circulation because of their alleged threats to accepted views on sex, politics, and religion.

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

"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.”