Back in 1997, when Anthony Valerio’s Conversation with Johnny was first published, the world hadn’t yet seen The Godfather, The Sopranos, or Goodfellas. In this slim volume, Valerio explores two distinct Italian American stereotypes: the dashing man about town and the successful gangster. Nicholas, the descendant of parents who emigrated to America, goes back to the old Italian New York neighborhood where Johnny, the old but still powerful gangster resides, surrounded by acolytes and luxury. The source of Johnny’s power and wealth is assumed to be crime, but he is is a caring and nurturing godfather, listening closely as Nicholas cries about his married, lover calling it quits. He is also a ruthless don who can shower Nicholas with wealth, get him a job as a maître-d at a famous restaurant, or create a retirement home for Italian American Writers. But he can’t promise Nicholas an Italian-American culture that focuses on solely on art as if organized crime never happened.
Anthony Valerio is the author of 12 books of fiction and non-fiction. As a book editor in major publishing houses, including McGraw-Hill, he was fortunate to have edited great writers such as Toni Cade Bambara, Shel Silverstein and others. His short stories have appeared in the Paris Review and have been published in anthologies by Random House, the Viking Press, and William Morrow. He has taught undergrad and post-grad writing at New York University, City University of New York, and Wesleyan University, and he has been a fiction judge at PEN’s Prison Writing Committee. He works every day, is a jazz afficionado, and a passionate golfer who tries to get out in nature and on the links. About Anthony Valerio’s work, his friend and legendary children’s book author, the late Shel Silvertein said: “He knows his craft: he gets in, tells his story and gets out. It’s what good writing should be.”