Canonici releases second book on Delta Italians
by Courtney Warren
Feb 04, 2014 | 1814 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A piece of Italy will be brought to the Delta when Paul Canonici returns for a book signing on Thursday.

Paul Canonici will sign his book "The Delta Italians II" at Cotton Row Bookstore from 11-2 p.m. in Cleveland.

Canonici was born and raised in Shaw and spent his life as a priest and educator. He also grew up speaking Italian with his parents.

"I was born of immigrant parents and grew up in Shaw. Received my elementary and secondary education in the Shaw Public Schools. I received seminary training with the Benedictine Fathers in Louisiana and Indiana. I earned a master’s degree in school administration from the University of Notre Dame in school administration and a doctorate in sociology from Mississippi State University. I spent most of my active professional years as a priest and educator.

"Most of my working career was spent as teacher and administrator of St. Joseph High School in Jackson and later as superintendent of Mississippi Catholic Schools. When I retired from my work with the Mississippi Catholic Schools I was founding pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Madison where I now reside. I spend my retirement years traveling, writing, doing art and cooking with my friends. My travels, mostly in Italy and just about every year, provide the inspiration and subject matter for my writing, art and cooking," he said.

In his first book, "The Delta Italians,” Canonici wrote about the history and his people.

"The Italians immigrants were recruited as workers for the cotton plantations of the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and presented family stories of the early immigrants. My current book ‘The Delta Italians Vol. II,’ is a supplement to the first book and contains family stories of other Italians who settled the Delta, other than those recruited for the cotton plantations. The current book contains approximately 300 pages and 443 photographs of early immigrants," he explained.

Canonici also added that this edition includes a chapter devoted to emigrants from Sermide, Province of Mantova.

"Some of the names of families from Sermide are Bassi, Barbieri, Faccini, Gamberini, Oltremari, Formigoni, Malavasi, Motto, Cortesi, Sbravati and Campi," he said.

Canonici explained the Sicilian Italians who settled in the Delta have a very different story from those Italians recruited for cotton plantations.

The story of these Sicialian Italians is a special feature of new book.

"It contains the family stories of Sicilian Italians who settled the Delta. Their story is very different from the story of Italians recruited for cotton plantations who were contracted for work before they emigrated as entire families. On the other hand, Sicilian men generally preceded their wives and children, found work, got settled and then sent for their families. Another special feature of the book consists of stories of families who have reconnected with their Italian relatives after a hundred years plus," he said.

Canonici explained how most of the Delta Italian history is lost and he feels it is important to preserve it for generations to come.

"Over the past one hundred year plus since the first immigration of Italians to the Delta most of our history is lost.  I have attempted to preserve in book form the bits and pieces of our story that remains. This is my contribution to my people. I have received more expressions of gratitude for my first book than I’ve received for anything else I have done."

While Canonici is looking forward to seeing his delta friends at the book signing, he said he is saddened to no longer see the delta in which he grew up.

"My connection to the delta is explained in my introduction.  I feel melancholy and a bit sad when I return to the Delta because it is no longer the Delta where I grew up.  The family farms are long gone.  The flourishing little towns I knew, like Shaw and Shelby, are not the lively towns I knew where I could stop by the drug store for a fountain coke after school."

Canonici visits Italy each year and plans to be there this spring.

"My favorite places in Italy are the walled medieval towns of the Marche Region, Province of Ancona, located on the Adriatic Sea in central Italy.  I love Assisi, the home of St. Frances.  I also like the remote, out of the way places of Central and Southern Italy where I can converse and eat with 'real Italians', free of tourists."

For more information about the book signing on Thursday contact Cotton Row Bookstore at 662-843-7083.