Stories Waiting to Be Told: Meet Professor Silvia Giagnoni

Born in Prato, Tuscany, Silvia Giagnoni is a writer, activist, and media scholar who began teaching in JCU’s Department of Communication and Media Studies in Fall 2021. She worked as a film journalist while pursuing her undergraduate degree in Communications at Sapienza University of Rome. In 2007, she earned a Ph.D. in Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University and in 2008, she took a position in the Department of Communication and Theatre at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama. Professor Giagnoni spent 10 years in Montgomery, the birthplace of the civil rights movement, strengthening her ties with the local activist community and deepening her commitment to social justice issues.

Silvia Giagnoni (photo by Ainara Moreno)
Silvia Giagnoni (photo by Ainara Moreno)

She is the author of Here We May Rest. Alabama Immigrants in the Age of HB 56 (Newsouth Inc, 2017), and Fields of Resistance. The Struggle of Florida’s Farmworkers for Justice (Haymarket Books, 2011). In Italian, she has published the novel Fioca (Iacobelli Editore, 2021), and the non-fiction text Oltre la Siepe. Alla Ricerca di Harper Lee (Edizioni dell’Asino, 2013).

In Fall 2024, she will be teaching Media, Culture, and Society and Public Speaking.

Professor Giagnoni was recently interviewed by JCU’s Director of Web Communications, Berenice Cocciolillo.

What made you decide to go to the U.S. for your Ph.D.?
After completing my degree at Sapienza, I happened to meet Anthony Tamburri, an Italian American professor who was the director of a Ph.D. program at Florida Atlantic and he encouraged me to apply. I was accepted and I originally intended to study Italian American cinema and culture under Professor Tamburri’s supervision. But while in the U.S., I became fascinated with Christian rock. I then involved an Italian filmmaker and friend of mine, and together we wrote, produced, and directed a documentary film on the topic (Take it Back? Evangelical Christianity and Popular Music, 2006). I also ended up shifting my research focus and writing my dissertation on the phenomenon. 

Tell us about how you became involved with local grassroots communities in the U.S.
While living in South Florida, I discovered and got to know Immokalee, the labor-pool community trying to improve the working and living conditions of migrant farmworkers, many of whom are immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, and Haiti. There were actual modern day slavery operations going on and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has done important work in terms of human rights. This story of this community became the subject of my narrative non-fiction account, Fields of Resistance. The Struggle of Florida’s Farmworkers for Justice.

After I accepted a position as an assistant professor at Auburn Montgomery in Alabama, I began to realize I was becoming an immigrant myself. I was not an international student anymore: I had a job in the academe and had applied for my permanent residency. I decided to start a project that would explore what it meant to be a new immigrant in the state. In the beginning stages of my research, my study took on a much more political turn as the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer & Citizen Protection Act (known as HB 56) went into effect (September 2011); this was hailed as the most restrictive immigration bill in the U.S.  Here We May Rest. Alabama Immigrants in the Age of HB 56 explains how and why the bill came about in a state with low numbers of foreign residents, but also tell the stories of resilience of many immigrants.

Tell us about your first novel Fioca (Feeble).
It’s very personal, as most first novels are. The protagonist is a kind of doppelganger of me, a photographer who goes to live in the U.S., but comes back to Italy to hold her first exhibit, which is about immigrants. She gets into a dangerous situation where she discovers a modern-day slavery operation, and she has to run away. In the end it’s really a story about two friends and the choices they make: one who stays and one who leaves. So, I think it’s very relatable.

What do you hope that your students take away from your Communications classes? What is your teaching philosophy?
I believe that the ability to deconstruct images and discourse and approach them critically is fundamental and should even be taught in elementary school. I am very passionate about Communications, and I try to convey this to students.

In terms of teaching philosophy, I try to develop a Socratic relationship with students, a dialogue that actively engages them. I always want them to try to think critically. It sounds a bit like a cliché, but I think it’s even more important today with AI-generated content being so readily available. It’s one thing to use AI as a tool to generate ideas, for example in the early stages of a paper. But I want students to formulate their unique thoughts in their own words. When students present AI-generated content as their own, I feel that my trust has been betrayed.

What are your current projects?
My latest novel, Caccia in Alabama (transl. Alabama Hunt), is forthcoming in November 2024 from Alter Ego. And finally, my account of the ongoing struggle of former Gkn workers in Campi Bisenzio (near Florence) will be also out in the next few weeks. I have had my hands full! There are always more stories to tell out there and the words to tell them are still important, to paraphrase a mural sign in Trastevere.