Sunday, October 30, 2016

Remembering Francesca Rosa

I wonder if it’s more miserable or more gentle to find out about a friend’s death when an email you send her comes back as undeliverable. Well, it’s done now, and with the passing of Francesca Rosa the world has lost one lovely, amused, engagé, and deeply kind person. She wrote as F.S. Rosa, and published a massive novel called The Divine Comedy of Carlo Tresca—which is how we met, when she sent me an email after reading a blog post I wrote about Carlo Tresca: Portrait of a Rebel. That book was written by Nunzio Pernicone—“the leading historian of Italian anarchism in the United States”—another large-hearted, committed, eyes-wide-open person I’d meet by email, and who departed this planet in 2013. Non averei creduto che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta. Cancer, in both cases; and also in both cases, if Francesca and Dr. Pernicone were to show up in Dante, once could safely bet the farm that it would be in Paradiso

Francesca Rosa and me at the Original U.S. Restaurant in North Beach, 2013. Here is another remembrance of her, and an interview, on Robin Tremblay-McGaw's blog, X Poetics. 

What a sweetie Francesca was. She worked for more than 30 years at the Arc San Francisco, working with people with developmental disabilities while, from what I could see, always writing and keeping active in her union and the larger community. She forever described herself as a “rank and file union member,” and a longtime student of labor and left history, and wore that both proudly and humbly. In emails that we wrote to each other I joked that I was an “underperforming anarchist” and she called herself an “anarcho-syndicalist with bourgeois tendencies,” though I never saw the bourgeois part, unless she was talking about liking a glass of red wine and a good plate of gnocchi.

Just as she was a committed activist and progressive, she loved the Italian stuff—the lore, the stories, the folkways. If I remember this right, her people were Sicilian on one side, Neapolitan on the other. Like in so many families, Italian or otherwise, there was plenty of political strife. She told me in an email that when her grandfather on her mother’s side, Joseph Mosarra, went to work at the Italian Center in Stamford, Connecticut (which had been started by her paternal grandfather, who became “a big fan of Fascism”), the first thing he did when he got there was “take down all the pictures of Mussolini.” I shared stories about my grandfather, Marino Auriti, fleeing Italy after the Fascists seized his familys house in Abruzzo and then, when I was a kid, how I was fascinated and confused by a great-uncle’s Fascist armband that was, for whatever reason, kept in a drawer in my grandparents’ house in Pennsylvania. I assumed later this was some sort of Santayanan reminder about remembering the past lest we doom ourselves to repeat it. 

Francesca and I met in person only once, over a long weekend in San Francisco. We both had a feeling of instant and deep familiarity, like we’d known each other forever. I remember we were in the unlikely neighborhood of Union Square, having some kind of beverage, taking about publishers, and I said something about a friend whose collection of essays was coming out on Akashic Books. Francesca didn’t know the publisher, but loved the name—“like the Akashic records,” she said. I didn’t know what that was, and she told me that akasha was Sanskrit for “ether,” that the idea was from theosophy (I think she might have used the words “old hippy thing”) and that, to be super-reductive here, it was a collection of all knowledge, all actions, and all desires, recorded in the astral plane. I joked that it sort of sounded like the internet, only without all the freaky trolls. I also said it reminded me of the notion of the Recording Angel, something that gets many a young person through a long night: the idea being that you have been seen, you have been witnessed, and, because of this, some of the loneliness of your life has been allayed. And so let me leave you with this: the idea of Francesca Rosa in the ether, over the airwaves, in our hearts. 


  1. Thanks for writing such a nice tribute to Chessie. I am her cousin (father's side), her dad was my dad's brother. I have decided that I want to read her book and could not remember the name, and this was the first thing that popped up when I googled it. thanks much. Gloria Rosa-Wendelboe

    1. It was so nice to get your note, Gloria -- thank you for writing. Such a pleasure to have known Francesca.