paper trail

Elena Ferrante unmasked?; Angela Davis endorses Clinton

Anita Raja

In an article published yesterday in the New York Review of Books Daily blog (and simultaneously in publications in Italian, German, and French), the investigative reporter Claudio Gatti states that “after a months-long investigation,” he has uncovered information that strongly suggests the true identity of the mysterious Italian writer Elena Ferrante. “Far from the daughter of a Neapolitan seamstress described in Frantumaglia,” Gatti writes, “new revelations from real estate and financial records point to Anita Raja, a Rome-based translator whose German-born mother fled the Holocaust and later married a Neapolitan magistrate.” This is not the first time a writer has advanced the theory: Last year in Public Books, Rebecca Falkoff explained why she had come to believe rumors that Raja is the real Ferrante, citing the similarities between Ferrante’s work and Raja’s translations of the fiction of the German writer Christa Wolf. But Gatti’s article seems to be a tipping point, setting off what The Guardian calls a “literary storm.” Gatti’s revelations have been met with vehement criticism. Publicist Kimberly Burns tweeted: “Shameful. If Elena Ferrante doesn't write another book, it is because of the attention-hungry egos of Claudio Gatti & @nybooks editors.” Author JoJo Moyles says: “Maybe Elena Ferrante has very good reasons to write under a pseudonym. It's not our 'right' to know her.” And Alex Shepard writes at the New Republic: “The NYRB’s argument for doxing Elena Ferrante is not very good.” Author and Tin House editor Elissa Schappel writes on Facebook: “Shame on the New York Review of Books and Claudio Gatti for outing Elena Ferrante…. This idea that we are in some way entitled to konw Ferrante’s identity because we have bought her books is asinine.” But Gatti says he was just doing his job: “The biggest mystery outside Italy about Italy is who is Elena Ferrante,” Gatti told the New York Times. “I’m supposed to provide answers, that’s what I do for a living.”

Novelist Jess Row has written an eloquent and insightful article about, among other things, Lionel Shriver and the critical response to her new novel, The Mandibles, and her recent speech in Bisbane: “Where is Shriver’s curiosity, and where is her compassion, when it comes to the perspectives of people who associate symbolic acts, like wearing sombreros, with deeper historical traumas? Is that not, too, part of fiction’s purpose? Part of what she accurately describes as ‘the astonishing reality of other people’?”

In the past, author and activist Angela Davis has not endorsed political candidates, choosing instead to focus on the need for a new political party. “Endorsing? I don’t endorse,” she said earlier this year. “I’ve actually never voted for one of the . . . two major parties in a presidential election before Barack Obama…. I still think that we need a new party, a party that is grounded in labor, a party that can speak to all of the issues around racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, what is happening in the world.” But even though she says she has “serious problems” with Hillary Clinton, Davis has, this year, decided to voice her support of the Democratic candidate: “I am not so narcissistic to say I cannot bring myself to vote for her. #BlackMatters2016

At Poynter, Rick Edmonds looks at the ethics of editors removing stories that are potentially damaging or embarrassing to their subjects, writing that most newsrooms don’t have a policy for how to handle requests from individuals to take down artcles from papers’ archives. Kelly McBride, co-editor of The New Ethics of Journalism and Edmonds's colleague at Poynter, told him: “I don't think we should just be saying reflexively, 'we stand by our reporting.’ . . . This may be an occasion to examine standards of reporting and question the one-source police report. Some of those are pretty damning. Even if you have a legal right to cover, morally do you?"

New York Times reporter Susanne Craig writes about the day she received pages from Donald Trump’s 1995 tax return in her office mailbox, a package that led to one of the paper’s most talked-about recent stories. Craig tells of the astonishment and excitement she felt when she saw the Trump Tower's return address on the envelope, and details the eight-day process that she and her colleagues used to vet the documents. The breakthrough was when the accountant who had prepared Trump’s tax return, Jack Mitnick, agreed to meet with a Times reporter. Mitnick cleared up one of the tax return's most baffling details: Trump’s loss for the year, $915,729,293, had two typewritten digits that didn’t line up with the other numbers, making the document appear to be have been altered. But the accountant explained that the tax-preparation software he used did not allow for such a long number, so he had to enter the “91” with a manual typewriter. The Washington Post reports that the Times could face legal ramifications for publishing the returns, and notes that at a panel discussion at Harvard last month, executive editor Dean Baquet told the audience he would risk jail time to make Trump’s taxes public.