As McKenzie observed, taking proper account of the full range of intermediaries between what the author wrote and what we now read over his name shows us how often that author ‘disperses into his collaborators, those who produced his texts and their meanings’ ([1986] 1999, 27). The key intermediaries in transforming Rabito’s original work play a central role in the contributions that follow, exploring the making of Terra matta in its different forms and reflecting on their own work. Those internal accounts are supplemented by external contributions making use of different disciplinary resources to illuminate the making of the work as it appeared in print and on the screen.

The Archivio Diaristico Nazionale at Pieve San Stefano played a major part in enabling Rabito’s typescript to become available to both specialist and general publics. In her contribution, Anna Iuso provides a political and social context for its work by rehearsing some of the history of the archives for so-called scritture popolari [‘popular, i.e., non-professional, writings’] in northern Europe and identifying the different purposes that inspired their collection and determined how they were treated. She outlines the evolution of the ADN, emphasizing the vital role played by its founder, the left-wing journalist Saverio Tutino, who was also responsible for establishing the Libera Università dell’Autobiografia at Anghiari near Pieve in 1998. She also notes how in recent years the ADN’s success has attracted the attention of non-professional writers and has unintentionally helped to shape the ways in which some have constructed their texts.

Luca Ricci and Evelina Santangelo then describe the process of transforming the original typescript into the published Terra matta. Neither editor worked from a theoretical background in bibliographical or textual studies; both used their different practical experience in handling texts to guide them. Clearly, Rabito’s 1,027 pages had to be reduced, and their evident problems of intelligibility and repetition addressed, if his story were ever to have the readers it deserved. Within these general constraints, the editors were faced by a choice which we can summarize crudely: to enable readers to see what Rabito had written or to encourage them to hear what he had said? Very roughly, the first option gives the text the central role, so that wherever the editors had intervened could be seen and the original left visible, even if that entailed making the reading exceptionally difficult. The second option makes the author the primary referent for editorial work and ensuring, even at the cost of substantial modification to the written script, that Rabito’s distinctive voice was preserved. Ricci describes how he sought to leave that choice open, allowing for the possibility of publication either by a specialist publisher interested in making available a text as close to the original as possible or by a commercial publisher interested in its widest possible diffusion. Working with both Rabito’s original text and Ricci’s edition, Santangelo illustrates how she brought a novelist’s perspective to bear in meeting the demands of a commercial publisher chiefly interested in bringing out the work’s literary qualities.

We owe the idea of Terra matta as a film, its script – co-written with the director Costanza Quatriglio – and its production to Chiara Ottaviano. Here she analyses the features of the text which attracted her to the project of converting it into a film, particularly the opportunities it offered for identifying still inadequately explored aspects of Italian history in the twentieth century. She underlines the importance of local social networks in making the film: its funding, casting and promotion. She also reflects on her own involvement, as the child of parents who grew up in the same town as Rabito, and on the ways in which Rabito’s work is acting as a portal to the wider project of recovering the social and cultural history of the Iblei region of south-east Sicily.

In the interview that follows, Costanza Quatriglio sets her direction of Terramatta; in the context of her previous work as a documentary film-maker. She identifies the ways in which the documentary she derived from Terra matta is distinct from a biography of Vincenzo Rabito himself and identifies the metaphors and cinematic strategies that organize the film. Bernadette Luciano and Susanna Scarparo then analyse how the film embodies the director’s longstanding interest in marginal and invisible subjects and in the journeys that shape their lives. They also examine the subtle relations established visually and aurally between Rabito’s text, the voice of the author as presented by the actor Roberto Nobile, and the images of both wartime and peacetime drawn from official archives. Central to their analysis is the way Quatriglio handles the clash of versions of the same events, juxtaposing the official visual records with the representation of Rabito’s experiences and underlining the contrast between forms of public and private memory.

We now know that Vincenzo Rabito rewrote his entire life story after his son Giovanni had taken away the first version. The second version remains unpublished – although Giovanni Rabito has put his own reworkings of the text online for brief periods. In his interview here Giovanni comments on some of the differences in style and content between the two versions. He enables us to see how his father developed the skills of envisaging and addressing a wider audience than the first time while maintaining the features of his distinctive voice. The comparison between the two texts provides an insight into the choices that Rabito made in selecting and presenting materials and so moves us away from thinking of his writing as simply the flow of an untutored stream of consciousness.

Finally, I explore how an anthropological perspective can illuminate the production, circulation and consumption of Terra matta by inserting it into its social and cultural context and invoking comparisons with a classic piece of ethnography. Anthropologists have particular experience in collecting and analysing oral literature, embodied in the forms of narrative, poetry, song, myth or folklore and usually created in groups with restricted literacy (Barber 2007). More recently they have renewed the discipline’s equally longstanding attention to material objects of all kinds by developing a biographical approach to their role and value in the social networks in which they circulate (Appadurai 1986). But they have shown little interest in the point at which these two interests intersect – the book as simultaneously a literary and material object – despite its centrality in the social organization and cultural hierarchies of many societies. Literacy may have long been a standard research topic but literature in its written forms has not. I therefore offer an anthropological approach to the processes of constructing and enhancing the cultural value of this particular kind of material object. In conclusion, I suggest that taking into account the evidence from Vincenzo Rabito’s other writing, not only the second version of his autobiography described by his son Giovanni but also his letters and diaries, produces an even more remarkable author and valuable autobiography than we have so far recognized.