BY JEFFREY BLUM
I have a confession to make: I am Elena Ferrante.
When, in My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante brutally exposed the class divisions in Neapolitan society, that was me. When she documented a tempestuous female friendship in Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, that was me as well. When she declined interview requests from the world’s leading literary publications — also me. They were all me because they were all Elena Ferrante and I am Elena Ferrante.
Much of the speculation around my identity has started from the assumptions that I am female, middle-aged, Italian, from Naples, have lived in Pisa, and am a professor in some humanities-related field. Very few literary detectives have figured out that I am a male, 26-year-old American whose experience with Pisa is limited to viewing a picture of a friend holding up the Leaning Tower through a hilariously original manipulation of perspective, and whose work experience is limited to data entry, SAT tutoring, and multiple unpaid internships.
Now, some of you might be skeptical of my being Elena Ferrante due to my linguistic capabilities, age, gender, Italian-ness, writing ability, and life experience not corresponding with your expectations. But fear not! I will assuage all these concerns as eloquently and completely as I painted a portrait of the struggles of a woman with ambition trapped in an impoverished, deeply patriarchal society.
You may be wondering how someone who is not Italian, doesn’t speak Italian, and cannot even pronounce the word ‘gnocchi’ could write a series of acclaimed novels that showcase both fluent Italian and a deep intimate knowledge of the Neapolitan dialect. Well, Spanish is basically Italian and I took one semester of Spanish in college, receiving a B-. Profesora Garcia described my writing as having “muchas ideas interesantes, pero también muchos errores de gramática.” So the potential was always there. You would be amazed how far basic Spanish, augmented with Google Translate, can get you.
My writing may seem awfully mature for someone so young, but look, I’m an old soul. I have grown-up, sophisticated taste. I do the NY Times crossword puzzle and eat vegetables sometimes. I can write with wisdom beyond my years. And as to my writing seeming remarkably sensitive to female issues for a male author, I grew up with sisters. Sisters who, for all their so-remarked-upon-at-family-reunions accomplishments have yet to win praise from James Wood in the New Yorker or a Man Booker prize. As I have, because I am Elena Ferrante.
Now, it might seem strange that someone whose writing career has as yet received little recognition would be able to achieve such literary acclaim writing as his Italian lady alter ego. Maybe so. Or maybe my writing career is just more impressive than I’ve previously been given credit for. After all, in my non-Elena Ferrante life I am an internet-published author whose work has been featured in one college newspaper and two (now-defunct) blogs. It has been retweeted by three separate twitter accounts, only two of which were spambots and only one of which was a porn spambot/men’s rights activist.
Statements in my letters to literary critics and my searing portrayal of the aftermath of a contentious divorce in The Days of Abandonment have lead many to speculate that I have been through a devastating marital disintegration. Not so. However, this is not to say that I am not drawing on my personal life when I so elegantly portray the interior world of characters dealing with heartbreak. One time on a Tinder date I asked a girl what she liked to do for fun and she said, “I don’t have any hobbies.” And I said, “really, not any? Like not even watching TV or something?” She then drained her drink and looked pointedly at her watch. So I too have known loves lost and hearts broken.
Why am I coming forward now? Why am I reversing my deeply held belief about the importance of anonymity for preserving the integrity of the artist? Well, I realized — in a thought totally in keeping with the emotional maturity and sophistication I have demonstrated throughout all my writing — that I was missing out on a bunch of fun awards ceremonies where I could collect cash prizes while flirting with attractive women who work in publishing. What is artistic integrity when weighed against the chance to chat up an assistant editor over comped champagne?
In the coming days my publisher might deny that I am, in fact, Elena Ferrante, but that’s just because she commits very seriously to bits. I am definitely Elena Ferrante; keep inviting me to galas and sending me checks. Also, some of you might now be double-checking the dates my novels were published and realizing that my first novel was published before I turned four. To these of you I say, “Would you believe that I’m Thomas Pynchon?”