Around a year ago, just before the coronavirus pandemic hit Australia, a forum was held at CO.AS.IT. in Melbourne, followed by a creative writing workshop organised by Teresa Capetola, a professor at Deakin University.

“Ascolta Women was born in the wake of my PhD research, which addresses and analyses the experience of second generation Italo-Australian women after World War II, and which was presented at the Diaspore Italiane conference in Genoa.”

On March 13, 2020, around 100 women participated in the forum Ascolta! Listening to unheard stories: Italian Australian multi-generation women’s experiences and migration legacies, which explored themes such as domestic violence, mental health, sexual oppression and racism.

A creative writing workshop took place the following day, led by the authors Elise Valmorbida and Anna Maria Dell’oso.

The workshop was a bittersweet turning point: it marked the end of physical events at CO.AS.IT. for the foreseeable future and, on the other hand, the beginning of Ascolta Women.

Victoria went into its first lockdown just a few days later and, on April 1, a WhatsApp group was created in which some of the women who had attended the events began sharing hundreds of messages about their experiences during the pandemic, sending photos, reflections and book suggestions.

“The women who had participated in the forum and the workshop decided to keep in touch, as they wanted to continue talking about all the issues addressed and, above all, they wanted to continue writing,” Capetola said.

On July 7, the group met virtually for the first time ever, via Zoom.

It marked the beginning of fortnightly meetings in which women aged between 24 and 71, from Melbourne, Mildura, Wollongong, Adelaide and London, could share their experiences, discuss politics, and talk about their lives and identities.

The group then began doing writing exercises; at each meeting, one of the participants would introduce a topic and then everyone would have around 10 minutes to write before sharing their work.

Members of Ascolta Women during a Zoom meeting. (Photo supplied)

“We understand and support each other because we share a piece of history,” Capetola said.

“During the meetings, we reflect on our identity, the global situation in which we find ourselves, social justice and much more. 

“Just a few days ago, we received the news that the presentation of our project has been accepted by the American Association for Italian Studies, and seven women from Ascolta Women will form an online panel during a conference in May.”

At one of the group’s meetings, Capetola suggested focusing on these unprecedented times, during which words such as “lockdown” “isolation” and “social distancing” have suddenly become the norm.

The results of the exercise were collected and turned into a single publication, Stories from the Inside: cronache di viaggi e quarantene tra Adelaide e Melbourne.

A dystopian fictional work reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s style, the book features tales of what would have happened to an Italian family if the COVID-19 pandemic had taken place in 1973, the experience of pregnancy in a period of uncertainty, and a yoga class on Zoom that wasn’t particularly relaxing.

The 16 contributing writers are: Adele Murdolo, Maria Fantasia, Anna Maria Dell’oso, Sara Bavato, Elena Callipari, Daniela Zannoni, Maria Pallotta Chiarolli, Teresa Capetola, Fortunata Maria Callipari, Giuseppina (Pina) Marino Leyland, Concetta Abate, Elena Maria Callipari Nemtsas, Monica Sestito, Vivian Gerrand, Margherita Angelucci and Luci Callipari-Marcuzzo.

Stories from the Inside will be launched on Sunday, March 7, at Collins Booksellers in Mildura at 2.30 pm, and can be attended virtually via Zoom.

Special guests include Adele Murdolo, the executive director of the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, and Maree Jones, the regional ambassador for Writers Victoria.

The book’s proceeds will be donated to charities that support immigrant women.