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How Stephen King’s gun essay found new life in ‘Gomorrah’

Lorenzo Tondo in Palermo
·3-min read

A non-fiction essay about gun violence by the American horror writer Stephen King will be produced by a tiny publishing house in Scampia, on the outskirts of Naples, known as one of the biggest drug-dealing and arms hotspots in Europe and the setting for the Italian TV drama Gomorrah.

Stephen King.
Stephen King. Photograph: Slaven Vlašić/Getty Images

The 25-page essay, Guns, was written after the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in America, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people, including 20 children.

“For a small publisher like us, it’s a dream to be associated with Stephen King – most of all because the theme of this essay is the risk associated with widespread access to weapons,” said Rosario Esposito La Rossa, writer and editor of the publishing house Marotta & Cafiero, and owner of Scugnizzeria – the house of the urchins – the only bookshop in Scampia. “Right here in Scampia, where guns often fall into children’s hands, we hope this essay can raise our collective consciousness.”

Esposito La Rossa is well aware of the sense of anguish in Scampia. “In 2004, they accidentally killed my cousin, Antonio Landieri,” he said, “they” being the Camorra.

“He was just 25 years old and disabled. He had cerebral palsy, and they mistook him for a drug dealer. His friends were shot in the legs, but Antonio, because of his slow movement, was the only one unable to flee.”

Scampia

Landieri was one of more than 70 people killed during a feud between Camorra gangs in 2004 and 2005. Many of the victims were innocent bystanders, killed inadvertently or because they were relatives or acquaintances of rival affiliates.

King’s agent in Italy said that it was precisely the social context in Scampia and the importance of selecting a publisher from the same area that convinced King to release publication rights for the essay, which Esposito La Rossa found on the internet.

“At a certain point we had this idea,” said Esposito La Rossa. “We knew we wouldn’t be able to publish any elaborate works by international authors, because obviously the large publishing houses control such acquisitions. We found Guns, which addressed the issue of gun violence prevention. I thought it was perfect.

“I contacted King’s agent straight away. It’s clear that King first wanted to know who we were and why we were interested in the essay. When they informed me that King accepted our proposal, I was beside myself with joy.

“But this is only the beginning. We want this to be a springboard to attract other writers.’’

The degradation and violence in Scampia made news around the world when in 2008 Roberto Saviano’s harrowing book Gomorrah, was made into an award-winning film directed by Matteo Garrone, and then in 2014, into an acclaimed TV series.

“For too long Scampia has been synonymous with violence and tragedy,” Esposito La Rossa said.

“My dream is that this book can mark one of the first steps in transforming Scampia into a neighbourhood synonymous with culture.”