William Fioravanti’s life has always been full of colorful characters.
There was his grandfather, Guglielmo, a learned man who immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1910, became a glove cutter and taught his grandson to love opera and literature.
There was his dad, whose sense of adventure led him to travel to California in a rundown car during the middle of the Great Depression.
And then there was his cousin, who set a sulphur mine on fire in Italy to escape working under slave-like conditions.
When a nephew asked Fioravanti about his family history, he decided he would tell it to him in book form. Last year, it all came together in “A Sicilian’s Journey,” an eBook available on Amazon.com.
The book follows the life of Fioravanti’s grandfather from his childhood in the mountain village of Castelmola, Italy, to his adult years in Johnstown.
“My grandfather was a very sophisticated man,” said Fioravanti, who has lived in Johnstown his entire life. “He came from Sicily with an education. For poverty-stricken people to get an education is a very unusual thing.”
Fioravanti lived with his grandfather and other family members in a 17-room house in an Italian neighborhood on the west end of Johnstown.
His father opened a tannery and a second leather company, in a region famous for its leatherwork.
Living in a factory town, Fioravanti recalled the dyes and chemicals that were dumped into local creeks. He said he could see one creek from a back window of his house.
“The water was one day red and the next day orange and maybe a couple of days gray. I never knew the water was supposed to be clear all the time,” he recounted.
Fioravanti didn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps. He dreamed of being a writer and traveled to Hollywood as a teenager.
“I wrote my first screenplay when I was 19. It wasn’t great, but I had an agent. He was peddling it,” he said.
As a young adult, he also spent time in New York City, got a degree from Syracuse University and studied in England, but eventually found his way back to Johnstown and went to work for his father.
After his family’s business closed in 1989, he worked in the textile industry until his retirement. That’s when the 73-year-old decided to turn back to his writing.
When he sat down to start his book, he realized he didn’t know how to write one. All of his experience had been in screenwriting and playwriting.
“And now I’m an old man. I forgot my comma rules and there were so many things, so I struggled and struggled, but I said to myself, ‘If James Joyce can write a whole chapter in one of the greatest books ever written without using one comma or period — the last chapter of Ulysses — I’m going to write this book the way I want to,’ ” he recounted.
Fioravanti didn’t abandon punctuation, but he wrote his book in a genre he could relate to.
“It’s like a treatment for a screenplay,” he explained. “It’s not boring; I made sure to put in plenty of action.”
Read by friend
Longtime friend John Alfano of Glenville lived two doors down from Fioravanti when the two were growing up. He recalled his buddy’s welcoming Italian family.
“We did spend a lot of time over at the house, and his grandfather was a very pleasant gentleman,” he said.
Alfano described the younger Fioravanti as “kind of a character, in a good way.”
As his book progressed, Fioravanti gave Alfano chapters to read.
“It’s interesting to see how a person immigrated from Italy, started out with very little, came here to the United States, built a family, built a home, went into a neighborhood and raised his family,” he said.
Fioravanti hopes his readers will come away with a fresh view of Italian immigrants.
“I want them to take away the fact that all immigrants that came from Sicily were not gangsters and they weren’t all ignorant,” he explained. “There were people who were intelligent that came to America to find a dream.”
Reach Gazette reporter Kelly de la Rocha at 395-3040 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @KellydelaRocha.