Nunzio Pernicone 1940-2013

Professor Nunzio Pernicone, the leading historian of Italian anarchism in the United States died in Pennsylvania on the night of 29-30 May 2013. He had been suffering from cancer. Born and raised in Greenwich Village, New York, Pernicone had frequented New York anarchist circles from boyhood, introduced to them by his father who was an actor-director in lots of anarchist amateur dramatic societies, and he was personally acquainted with Raffaele Schiavina and Valerio Isca. He later devoted his entire career as an historian to anarchism, anti-fascism and the Italian-American labour movement. Beginning in 1987, Pernicone lectured in history at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where he was a full professor. His book Italian Anarchism 1864-1892, published in 1993 and reissued in 2009 is still the standard reference work in English on the subject. Pernicone had it in mind to bring out a second volume covering the years 1892-1900. He edited Carlo Tresca’s autobiography and also penned the biography Carlo Tresca: Portrait of a Rebel, and this too went to a second edition in 2010. He published many articles on the Italian workers’ movement, on Luigi Galleani and propaganda by deed on the part of Italian anarchists in the United States, on anti-fascism and on the Greco-Carrillo case, on Arturo Giovannitti, Sacco and Vanzetti, Carlo Tresca and Pietro Acciarito. He also featured in three documentary films and a radio broadcast about the Sacco-Vanzetti Case. His most recent publication, just last year, was an introduction he wrote to the volume of the [Italian language] Complete Works of Malatesta dealing with Malatesta’s time in America. As his friend, the historian of American anarchism, Paul Avrich, once said, Pernicone’s writing paid great attention to the minutiae, searching out the right quotation and telling detail and displaying a great talent for organising complex material into a coherent and forceful narrative. Besides his gifts as a historian, Pernicone also shared with Avrich a passion for cats. He and his wife Christine had four of them. The writer of this note never met him in the flesh, and cannot say “what sort of voice he spoke with”. But on the basis of our correspondence alone, I was rather surprised to find myself developing a deep fondness for him, the sort one might feel for a father figure ever generous with his encouraging words and sound advice. Pernicone had only recently finished the manuscript of his final book, which he had given the working title Propaganda of the Deed: Italian Anarchist Violence in the 19th Century. We look forward to seeing it go to print shortly. It will be the best possible tribute to our fellow wayfarer.

From: Translated by: Paul Sharkey.