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FRANCESCA VINCIGUERRA AKA FRANCES WINWAR

Born on May 3, 1900, in Taormina, Sicily, Francesca Vinciguerra was a renown Italian-American biographer, translator, and fiction writer. The daughter of Domenico Vinciguerra, a singer, and Giovanna Sciglio, she arrived in the United States with her family when she was seven, in 1907. She grew up in New York City where she attended Hunter College and Columbia University.

By the time she was 18, she was fluent in Italian, English and French but she never finished her studies. That year she published her first poetry in the radical socialist magazine The Masses.

In 1923, she published a literary essay on Giovanni Verga in Freeman that was noticed by many periodicals; during that year the New York World hired her as a staff book reviewer, and she became  a contributor to the New York Times, the New Republic, and the Saturday Review of Literature.

She wrote her first book, The Ardent Flame, in 1927, based on the story of thirteenth-century lovers Paolo and Francesca. The following year she published Golden Round, set in the same period, and in 1929 she published Pagan Interval, a romantic fantasy.

Her publisher asked her to change her name because it was too long so she changed it to Winwar, a literal translation of Vinciguerra.

Frances then wrote a series of biographies: Poor Splendid Wings: The Rossettis and Their Circle (1933); The Romantic Rebels, about John Keats, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron; 

Farewell the Banner (1938) on Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and Wordsworth's sister; American Giant: Walt Whitman and His Times (1941), and Oscar Wilde and the Yellow 'Nineties. In The Life of the Heart (1945), on the life of George Sand, she wrote about Frédéric Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, and Louis Napoléon, and the book became the most successful of all her works. The Saint and the Devil; The Story of Joan of Arc and Gilles deRais (1948); The Land and People of Italy (1951); Napoleon and the Battle of Waterloo (1953), Queen Elizabeth and the Spanish Armada (1954) and Haunted Palace (1959), about Edgar Allan Poe; and Jean-Jacques Rousseau Conscience of an Era (1961) followed.

Frances was a terrific translator: she translated two cantos of Dante's Divine Comedy; Charles Baudelaire’s poems; and the most acclaimed, Boccaccio's Decameron. She loved music, so she also translated Verdi's Simon Boccanegra; Rossini's Il signor Bruschino;and Verdi's Don Carlo.

She was an outspoken opponent of Italian Fascism, the only Italian American besides Pietro di Donato to speak at the Second American Writers Congress in 1937, where her paper "Literature under Fascism" vehemently condemned Fascist repression and its effects on literature in the country of her birth, asserting that "The dark Seicento [i.e., the seventeenth century, a time of decline and unrest] has come again over intellectual Italy" (Canistraro and Meyers, p. 269, American National Biography).

In 1923, with a group of visual artists, she founded the Leonardo da Vinci Art School in Manhattan where free or very inexpensive art classes were offered to less fortunate students. In 1949, she wrote Ruotolo: A Man and Artist, dedicated to the school’s director, sculptor and poet Onorio Ruotolo.

Frances had a very tumultuous romantic life: she married writer Victor J. Jerome in the twenties; after a divorce, in 1925, she married Bernard D. N. Grebanier, a professor of English literature at Brooklyn College. After a new divorce, in 1943 she married mystery writer Richard Wilson Webb. After him, she married Dr. Francis Lazenby, a scholar from the University of Notre Dame.

She died on July 24, 1985, at her home in New York City.