Amara Lakhous to give annual Giamatti Lecture

Born in Algiers in 1970, author, anthropologist and journalist Amara Lakhous writes about the immigrant experience, exploring identify, language and cross-cultural encounters.

His own immigrant life began in 1995, when Lakhous was working as a radio journalist in Algiers. Chased by Islamist death threats, he moved to Rome. There, he published his first novel, “The Bedbugs and the Pirate,” in Arabic. A few years later, he published an Italian and Arabic bilingual version.

While his original tongue is Berber, Lakhous made the decision to write in Arabic and Italian with the goal of what he calls “Arabicizing” the Italian, and “Italianizing” the Arabic.

Lakhous will give this year’s Valentine Giamatti Lecture at Mount Holyoke College. His talk is entitled “Narrating the Mediterranean with Originality: My Journey as a Bilingual Writer in Arabic and Italian.”

The lecture is sponsored by the Department of Classics and Italian and will be held in Gamble Auditorium on Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 6 p.m. The Odyssey Bookshop will have books on hand for purchase.

After Lakhous moved to Rome, he found work as a cultural mediator for new immigrants — he had a degree in philosophy and was fluent in Berber, Arabic, French, Italian and English. He began a second degree, this one in cultural anthropology and published his second novel, “How to Be Suckled by the Wolf Without Getting Bit,” also in Arabic.

Lakhous then translated the book, which tells the stories of immigrants being questioned about a murder, into Italian and republished it as “Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio.” Words Without Borders magazine described the novel as “a friendly satire about unfriendly people” and “unbearably sad stories in sly comic style.”

A bestseller in Italy, the book went on to win Italy’s Flaiano and Racalmuto-Leonardo Sciascia prizes and was made into a movie in 2008.

Lakhous’ other books include “Divorce Islamic Style” and “Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet.” His honors also include Algeria’s most prestigious literary award, the Prix des Libraires Algériens. He now lives in New York City.

The Valentine Giamatti Lecture has been given since the late-1980s in honor of Dante scholar Valentine Giamatti, a professor of Italian at Mount Holyoke for more than 30 years. Recent deliverers of the Giamatti Lecture include author Dacia Maraini and journalist Lucia Annunziata.