L Is for Lion: An Italian Bronx Butch Freedom Memoir

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A 1960s Bronx tomboy learns how to survive her brutal but humorous Italian family and all the rest that life throws her. The harder you hit the pavement, the higher you fly.

This vivid memoir speaks the intense truth of a Bronx tomboy whose 1960s girlhood was marked by her father’s lullabies laced with his dissociative memories of combat in World War II. At four years old, Annie Rachele Lanzillotto bounced her Spaldeen on the stoop and watched the boys play stickball in the street; inside, she hid silver teaspoons behind the heat pipes to tap calls for help while her father beat her mother. At eighteen, on the edge of ambitious freedom, her studies at Brown University were halted by the growth of a massive tumor inside her chest. Thus began a wild, truth-seeking journey for survival, fueled by the lessons of lasagna vows, and Spaldeen ascensions. From the stoops of the Bronx to cross-dressing on the streets of Egypt, from the cancer ward at Memorial Sloan-Kettering to New York City’s gay club scene of the ’80s, this poignant and authentic story takes us from underneath the dining room table to the stoop, the sidewalk, the street, and, ultimately, out into the wide world of immigration, gay subculture, cancer treatment, mental illness, gender dynamics, drug addiction, domestic violence, and a vast array of Italian American characters. With a quintessential New Yorker as narrator and guide, this journey crescendos in a reluctant return home to the timeless wisdom of a peasant, immigrant grandmother, Rosa Marsico Petruzzelli, who shows us the sweetest essence of soul.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“…a truly inspirational story that takes us beyond gender, beyond sexual persuasion, and into the humanity that defines us all … Annie’s is a liberating story, not only in what happens to her, but in the way she tells it … L Is for Lion is an extraordinary telling of ordinary experiences in the life of a Bronx Butch.” — Fra Noi

“You need to read this book because it’s the most powerful depiction I have ever read of how a human being can draw on her folk culture, her humor, and her poetic insight to pull life-affirming meaning out of the gutter like a lost spaldeen … L Is for Lion is a luscious lasagna pulled from the hot stove that binds us together as human beings.” — Steve Zeitlin, City Lore

“Annie Rachele Lanzillotto is a vividly talented writer whose coming of age story as a Bronx Italian lesbian creates a superb memoir. Rollicking with detail, poetic in language L Is for Lion is the book you read while walking through the house or out to your mailbox, just not wanting to pause even a moment.” — San Francisco Book Review

“This sprawling narrative could be called an Italian memoir, a Bronx memoir, a cancer memoir, a veteran father memoir, a 1960s childhood memoir, a mother-daughter memoir, or a lesbian memoir. In an ambitious display of storytelling, Lanzillotto’s charming collection of vignettes encompasses all of these identities at once … L Is for Lion comes across like a bright, entertaining friend who tells the best stories—the kind you never forget.” — Lambda Literary

“If you want to know what it means to be a real human being, read Annie Lanzillotto’s memoir, L Is for Lion, the title delivered to her directly in a dream from her dead father. As its subtitle implies, the book is a lesbian coming-of-age story, but like Whitman before her, Annie is vast; she contains multitudes. In spite of the privation and scarcity that have always dogged her, she lives out of abundance. You will love this lion as I do, and she will make you roar.” — Jean Feraca, author of I Hear Voices: A Memoir of Love, Death, and the Radio

“Annie’s adventures as a Bronx-born tomboy are one-of-a-kind. The writing is exuberant and lyrical; the characterization masterful. Told with pathos, wit, and unflagging energy. If you’re looking for a memoir in high-definition surround sound, look no further.” — Margaux Fragoso, author of Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir

“Annie Lanzillotto, the bard of Bronx Italian butch, is an American original, a performance artist and cultural anthropologist whose work is unique in theme, sound, affect, and effect. This memoir reveals her to be something more: an astonishing writer possessed of an utterly inimitable voice, a voice at once as richly soulful as her mother’s lasagna and as bracingly unsentimental as her father’s Marine masculinity. Lanzillotto’s stories bounce and stretch with the elasticity of her trusted Spaldeen, keeping us just a step ahead of the flying emotional shrapnel of an intensely lived life as we move from the mean streets of 1970s Bronx to the Ivy League, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering cancer ward, the banks of the Nile, and the Italian mezzogiorno. A landmark of ethnic expressivity, L Is for Lion indelibly portrays the iconic Italian American spaces of kitchen, stoop, sidewalk, and street; the body as a site of humor and tragedy; and, above all, the family war zone as an uncanny intermingle of poignancy and brutality.” — John Gennari, author of Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and Its Critics

L Is for Lion is a book about a girl named ‘Daddy’ who goes to Brown but never leaves the Bronx. This long-awaited memoir by lesbian storyteller and performance artist Annie Lanzillotto traverses the distance from Arthur Avenue to Cairo to Sloan-Kettering and back again in an ethnography of the self and of an era. It’s a book made of dismantled padlocks, and of doors, opened and closed; of spoons clanking against radiators in an attempt to speak or scream; of Ivy League classism and World War II racism; of language ‘spoken and broken.’ Equal parts humor, guts, and grief, it’s a disarming story of all that a person—body, mind, and soul—can undergo without going under, in which ‘Bronxite’ is a new kind of rock.” — Mary Cappello, author of Awkward: A Detour and Called Back

Library Journal
Lanzillotto, a poet, songwriter, and performer, traces her Italian family back to its immigrant roots. She also describes her youth (in the 1970s Bronx, NY) with an abusive, mentally ill father. She escapes to Brown University, survives cancer, comes out, and meets every challenge with aplomb in this rollicking, hopeful memoir.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Annie Rachele Lanzillotto is a poet and performance artist living in New York. She teaches master classes in solo performance for the Acting Apprentice Company at Actors Theatre of Louisville. She is the author of a book of poetry, Schistsong.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: The Blue Suitcase

Part One: Bronx Tomboy

Eat with Guys You Trust
Breakfast Is to Coat the Stomach
The X
The Return of the Rust
A Good Eater
The Tin Ceiling
Licking Batteries
Teaspoons and Heatpipes
Kitchen Bird
Kindergarten, Boot Camp: 1968
Sister Rosaria
Lasagna Vows
Ravioli, Homing Pigeons, and Teletype Machines
Grandpop, the Hook, and the Eyebrow
Made of Rubber
Sister Giuseppina
Sister Ercolina
Playing War
Lead Pipe, Montezuma, Icicle
Hand to Hand
The Return of the Lasagna
How to Catch a Flyball in Oncoming Traffic
The Names of Horses
Rook to Queen Four
Burning Rubber and Penmanship
Trestles and Love
Silence, Violence
The Blue Angel
Bronx County Family Courthouse
Parkchester Poseidon Adventure
The Lady in Black
Fast Break

Part Two: Educationa Girl

The Temporary Apartment
Permanent Wave
Useless Expertise
Hunger Beat Agida
Walk Softly but Carry a Big Pockabook
Lunch Is to Clean the Blood
Slow, Loud, and Clear
Asthma, Green Money, and the Feast
Outfield Greens
My Mother, the Plaintoff
Aunt Patty’s Bullfight
You’re Just Like Your Father
Junkie Pride
Mary Perry
College Entrance
Strike One
Fontanelle Aurelius
The Miracle Worker of 233rd Street

Part Three: Kimosabe

The Best Place to Have Cancer
Room 621
Shake ‘n Bake
The Fastigium
Dope and Demerol
The Pipeline
Truckstop Paranoia
Brazil Upside Down
Belly Up
Triple Boiling Point
Eat ‘Til You Sweat
The Tumor Board
The Radioactive Man Says, “Don’t Give Up the Ship!”
One Mis-sip-pi
Magnetic Lace
Lesbianism, Suicide, or the Nunnery
How to Wake Up a Marine in a Foxhole
Red Death
Falling and Flying
Civilian Life Sucks
Deep Bell

Part Four: How to Cook a Heart

Wallid Walla Bint
Equator Crossings
Bronx Italian Butch Freedom
Never Come Out in a Lincoln Continental
A Nightclub Named Devotion “Roma o Morte!”
“Cosa Mangia Oggi!”
My Mother’s Aorta
Shave My Head
Enter Audrey Lauren Kindred
Rachele’s Pocketbook Fritatta
How to Poke a Guy’s Eyes Out
How to Cook a Heart

Part Five: Annie’s Parts

Mr. Fixit
Six Places to Buy Milk
My Father, Marconi, and Me
Horizontal People
Radioactive Feast
Limoncello and the Black Bra
Garlic, the Ave Maria, and the Blue Leg
Assassination Focaccia
Spearmint Gum Cure
One Day My Horse Will Come In
Madeleine and the Magic Biscotti
How GrammaRose Became a Peach Tree
The Lasagna Stands Alone
Three Days from Eternity
Don’t Make ‘Em Burn
Pipe Dreams
The Little Fish and the Big Ocean
Three Hundred Cream Puffs and the Illusion Veil
Lingua Madre
Sì o No?
A Couple of Teaspoons of Coffee and a Couple of Drops of Milk
Becoming GrammaRose Peach Tree

Acknowledgments: Exquisite Pleasure
Author’s Page

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2013

    stomer Reviews 5.0 out of 5 stars (2) 5.0 out of 5 stars 5 star

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    1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars L is for lion February 2, 2013
    By Anthony Chiappelloni
    L is for lion is a profound memoir of a Bronx Italian who against all odds persevered into a person of intellect and artistic talents. Like Annie, I am A Bronx Italian who grew up in the streets, sat on the stoop and played "Stick ball" and other street games. Annie had it harder than me because she was a Lesbian. Like Annie I came from a abusive family. The difference was I turned to drugs and became a "dope fiend" Annie turned to books and education. Entering the ivy league Brown University at the age of 18. While there she discovered that she had cancer. She fought it like a lion and it went into remission, only to return years later. Reading this book was like reading my life as a Bronx Italian and all the craziness that happened. Six years ago I was diagnosed with a deadly cancer that few survive. Annie always said that we are "moving targets"
    Annie has done incredible things in her life, reading poetry, performance art and teaching. One good thing is that Annie has kept her Bronx accent and I love this about her. Read her book and you will have a journey to the real life, the street life of The Bronx.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2013

    Read me

    Awsome read..did not want to put it down.. felt like i was living thru the authors eyes. Cant wait to read it again.loved it..buy it read it and enjoy!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2013

    I absolutely loved this book! I dare anyone to read it and not b

    I absolutely loved this book! I dare anyone to read it and not be entertained. Annie shares her life story in a colorful and candid way that will, no doubt, leave you inspired. Against all odds, Annie did not give in to adversity, illness, stereotypes, or rejection. Annie fought those demons and went on to get an Ivy League education, survive cancer, learn to fly, travel to Italy to immerse herself in her heritage, study in Cairo, perform at the Guggenheim Museum with her 96 year old grandmother, etc. If you are an Italian American, know an Italian American, or watched a movie about Italian Americans, you must read this book! It made me laugh, cry, and really really hungry! Mangia!

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  • Posted February 10, 2013

    If you¿re looking for a predictable autobiography that reads lik

    If you’re looking for a predictable autobiography that reads like an album recorded in mono, then this tome is not for you. However, if you desire a memorable memoir written from the soul of a survivor with the heart of a lion and reads like a newly-remasterd CD recorded in digital stereo from the original studio tapes, L is for Lion is the must-read book of 2013. Warning – be prepared to allot a generous amount of time the minute you start reading from anywhere in the author’s life, as this is not an easy book to set aside, even for a moment. Whether one had humble Italian beginnings in The Bronx, discovered non-traditional sexuality, or continues to fight – and win – against cancer while negotiating or coming to terms with adversity among nuclear family members, the reader can relate to and/or embrace many of the life-experiences shared by Ms. Lanzillotto from New York to Europe and the Mideast back to New York again. Along the way, we meet a diverse group of characters that would challenge even the best of film-makers to cast and depict as descriptively as written throughout the 330 plus pages. Such a cast includes neighborhood nuns, a linebacker, a corporate executive, the Kings Hearts, the Joker, a battered housewife survivor hairdresser, and the main character, the author – an asthmatic scholar athlete – who, at only eighteen years of age, learns of a giant cancerous tumor flailing around her chest. As you read about the life of Ms. Annie Lanzillotto in her own words, you discover that she is more than a Bronx Butch cancer survivor. She represents the heart and soul of anyone bearing challenging crosses, by standing up and making a difference through her self-less, on-going proactive responses. And, it was written with all the heart, humor, reality, color and clarity of any Clemens codex published.

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