- June 11, 2009
It was late in the 1990s when East County's Joseph Polizzi went to St. Martha's Catholic School in Sarasota to offer a theater dancing presentation to elementary school students on how to perform an Italian dance.
What the students didn't realize that day was they actually inspired him.
He was so moved by the excitement in their eyes to learn something new, he went home and pondered ways he could create something that could entertain and educate similar age groups.
To that point in his life, the now 80-year-old Polizzi, who is a retired professor emeritus and former chairman of the Department of Sociology at St. John Fisher College of Rochester, N.Y. , had written non-fiction books, all on some aspect of Italy, in part to celebrate his heritage.
But he knew these books were not fodder for fourth-graders. Consider some of the titles, such as The Golden Conch: An Anthology on the Splendid Isle of Sicily (1975); Grandmother Said It Best: A Treasury of Italian Proverbs (1988); and Bel Giro: Italian Places in Rhapsodic Images, Odes, Word Paintings and Poetic Fragments (1980), among others.
He wanted to spread love and virtue to children through his writing.
So he went home from his St. Martha's Catholic School and basically wrote a children's book. He copyrighted the story line in 1998.
And that was that. For years.
Polizzi went about writing nonfiction, and then in 2017, perhaps it was his story's angel that sat on his shoulder.
He sat at his piano and played an old piece that was so beautiful and moving he started to think about his children's story. The piece was called "The Song of the Rose" by Carl Wilhelm Kern (1874-1945), a composer who was born in Germany and moved to the United States when he was 19. He suddenly felt a connection between Kern's music and his yet-to-be-completed children's story.
"My head was filled with images (of his children's book)," he said.
Polizzi, who has a master's from Fordham University (1962) and a doctorate from Cornell University (1967), went to the Sarasota Music Archive and looked up Kern's works.
Twenty-five of Kern's works were found at the Sarasota Music Archive and he chose 13 he thought would be great to accompany readings of his children's book.
He then self-published "The Court of Winter Roses," his long, stored-away children's book, and planned a special event to set the reading to five of the 13 Kern's works he had found.
That event is Wednesday, Feb. 27 at Lakewood Ranch Country Club. Polizzi invited many members of the Ausonian Society, which he has served as its cultural director and president for more than 10 years. The Ausonian Society promotes Italian culture and heritage.
"This book is a long time in coming," he said from his home. "The emphasis always has been the power of love. I wanted to encourage knightly values and courtesy. The book is dedicated to Princess Diana because the (book's) princess reflects the physical and social qualities of Princess Diana."
Besides introducing "The Court of Winter Roses, Polizzi also will unveil another one of his book projects, this one "Fanciful and Elegant Works of Art in Miniature: The Egg in History as Symbol and Metaphor."
"It's a deeply personal project," he said.
Polizzi's mother, Caroline Polizzi, took up the pastime of decorating Fabergé-style eggs 45 years after reading "The Splendid Art Of Decorating Eggs" by Rosemary Disney. Polizzi said his mother's artwork was spectacular and, at one point, he photographed many of her eggs.
"Her creations rivaled Disney, although she didn't use precious gems," said Polizzi, who does all his writing on a typewriter.
His book "Fanciful and Elegant Works of Art in Miniature" doubles as both a tribute to his mom's with both a description and photo of the work, along with feel-good prose to accompany each entry.
Polizzi, whose degrees are in sociology and human development, moved from Rochester to Palm Aire 31 years ago after retiring from St. John Fisher College. His most popular work was "Grandmother Said It Best: A Treasury of Italian Proverbs," which sold about 33,000 copies and was cowritten with a fellow professor Angeline Guzzetta-Jones.
His books — he goes by the pen name of Dr. Joseph Antinoro-Polizzi — never have been a means to an income but rather for his readers' education and enjoyment.
Of course, like all writers, he does have the impossible dream, which would be if some director picked up "The Court of Winter Roses" for a ballet.
For information on his special event, call Polizzi at 355-4649. Partial proceeds from the event will benefit the SmileTrain, a nonprofit that provides free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care to children globally.