A sophisticated literary style has helped Italian language students, Valentina Maniacco and Tania Malik, win first and second prizes in the inaugural Dante Aligheri Society/Griffith University Prize for Best Autobiographical Story.

“The judges agreed unanimously that the stories were so well articulated and expressed in such a creative and poetic way that it made it hard to believe they were written by second-year students,” said Griffith University Italian Studies coordinator Tiziana Miceli.

As part of the “Written Italian’’ course second-year students develop their creative writing skills by writing their autobiography and posting it on a blog. In partnership with the Dante Aligheri Society it was decided to hold a competition so students could use their coursework as the basis for a longer piece.

“Autobiographical writing opens their minds to a different way of writing from the typical academic style.

“It encourages them to express their personal thoughts and experiences and to engage in self-reflection using their second language. In this way, they take ownership of the Italian language as a personal meaningful resource.”

Second-generation Italian, Valentina’s 1800-word autobiography, aptly titledUN PICCOLO ASSAGGIO(ALittleTaste),opens with a tale of her parents’ journey to Australia. It incorporates a poem writtento her father, a chapter on a special person in her life and two more creative chapterscalled ‘The Kitchen Table’ and ‘House of Horrors’.

“This project was extremely challenging becauseI don’t think anyof us had ever written so much in Italianbefore,’’ Valentina said.

“At first I found it daunting,spending countless hours writing and rewriting. But in the end I was so pleased with what I had achieved, it was worth the heartache.”

Valentina’s background in IT came in handy when presenting the project, and she published the autobiography on herwebsite.

For Tania, writing her autobiography E’ NEL SANGUE (It’s in the Blood), was also a labour of love.

“The grammar aspect of the language was quite difficult. Once I started though, it became easy to continue. I was able to get into the rhythm of expressing emotions and sensations and every paragraph seemed to flow,’’ she said.

“The highlight was being able to relive my childhood and fond memories with my Nonna. It took me back to her kitchen, the smells, the conversations and preparing meals together.”

The judging panel comprised a Griffith University lecturer in Italian, a Dante Alighieri Society teacher, a past student of Italian, and an Italian journalist.

Valentina and Tania said winning the prizes (two book-vouchers of $150 and $100 respectively), was an honour and will encourage them to continue learning the language. Both want to travel to Italy to visit their respective families as well as teach others the beauty of the Italian language.

The award ceremony took place on Friday, March 14 at the Dante Alighieri Society in Brisbane. The Italian Acting Consul, Dott. Tiziana Grasso, presented the awards to the winners. A third student, Jocelyn Garcia, was awarded a Highly Commended for her work.