Two First-Gen Authors Share Their Stories

90% of the RAR-MA families are multilingual households, many of which are immigrants. This presents many challenges, as well as learning opportunities. Read about two authors who have similar experiences.

Marianne Leone Cooper

Marianne and her son Jesse. Her first book is a tribute to his life, that was tragically cut short at the age of 17.

Writer and actress, Marianne Leone Cooper, is a daughter of two Italian immigrants who came to America and settled seven miles outside of Boston. The love of reading her parents instilled helped shape her into the successful writer and woman that she is today.

Leone’s second book – a memoir of her mother.

“I am a first-generation American whose parents were immigrants from Italy. My father, Gerardo Leone, arrived here at the age of nine and went to work soon after. He had no formal education, but loved books and was self-educated. He was reading Tolstoi’s War and Peace when he died. It is in his memory that I am supporting Raising A Reader MA. Our house was filled with books, and my father instilled his love of reading in me at an early age. Like my father, I taught myself to read, and remember him filling my closet with books and showing me those piles of books and telling me they were all for me. I read voraciously and, when I outgrew our home library, had the blessing of a local branch library at the end of my street. My father grew up hungry and impoverished in the mezzogiorno of southern Italy. Literacy lifted our family and allowed us the fulfillment of unimaginable dreams: within one generation, the daughter of Gerardo Leone had a college degree and life as a working actor and writer — a career in the arts — something only afforded the nobility back in the old country. “

Edith Wharton said ‘There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.’ I’ve received the light of literacy and want to reflect it back to others.

Marianne Leone Cooper

Christopher Castellani

Novelist, essayist and creative director of GrubStreet, Christopher Castellani, is also the son of Italian immigrants who moved to the US without the ability to read or write English. They dedicated their lives to working hard to afford their children the opportunities they did not have. Castellani’s first three novels are directly inspired by his parents’ stories of immigration and seeking a different life in America.

Castellani’s latest novel reimagines the love story of Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo.

“I grew up in a house with parents who couldn’t read or write English, and I saw firsthand how crippling the anxiety around the language was to their sense of self and to their ability to thrive in this country. My parents are Italian immigrants who arrived in the U.S. after World War II, and, because of the demands of supporting extended family and raising children, they were never able to find an effective or affordable ESL education. They worked blue-collar jobs in factories in order to support themselves and their kids, on whom they relied to be their translator and their guide. In elementary school, I was answering all of their mail, responding to invitations, paying bills, filling out Census forms, even doing their taxes and accompanying them to the bank. Their fear of language and of reading – and, I think, of being ‘found out’ — kept them circumscribed in a tight-knit but ultimately stifling immigrant community, and it severely limited their ambitions for themselves. They put all of their hopes and dreams into their kids, but I’ve always wondered what they could have done with their lives if they’d empowered themselves with literacy. “


The Weekly Reader was, far and away, the most thrilling part of my grade school, where I was otherwise a shy and friendless kid. I lived for and in those books: mysteries, tragedies, historical fiction, whatever I could convince my parents to pay for. To their credit, they let me buy as many as I wanted, sensing, knowing, that my interest in them would give me a better life than they had. They were right. 

Christopher Castellani


Raising A Reader MA is proud to have the support of such esteemed authors as Leone and Castellani and we are thrilled to include them as guest authors for our upcoming Dinner with an Author gala on May 8, 2019.  Please visit the event site for more information, sponsorship and tickets.