April 21, 2015

Alumni Spotlight: Marcello Di Cintio, BA'97 (English), BSc'97

Arts alumni are an accomplished crew. They have great advice for students and fellow graduates, and know that arts degrees teach skills that are sought-after in the professional environment.

Di Cintio is a non-fiction writer and has written three books of literary journalism, writes for magazines and was the 2009-10 Writer-in-Residence at the University of Calgary. Di Cintio wrote Walls: Travels Along The Barricades, for which he travelled to places like Israel and India to explore the prevalence of security barriers in an otherwise barrier-free, connected world. His book won the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, was nominated for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction and the British Columbia National Award for Non-Fiction. Walls: Travels Along The Barricades was also named one of the top 100 books of 2012 by the Globe and Mail.

What is your funniest University of Calgary memory?

There was one time I remember where they had the Three Lines Free in the back of the Gauntlet where anyone could submit a sentence or so. There was a girl wanting to meet a guy and it said, “Hey to the hot Italian guy in my Sociology 203 class whose name rhymes with yellow, we should get together.” I was very excited about this and so I showed it to my sister and she just laughed at me because it was actually to some other guy that everyone knew. That basically just described the extent of my entire university romance too. 

What was your favourite campus hang out spot?

Myself and all the other guys on the U of C wrestling team hung out at Baron’s Court, which is the space in front of the locker rooms and fitness area. 

If you could give one piece of advice to a student completing the same degree that you did, what would it be?

I would say work harder, read more and read deeper. English majors get in the cycle of having to read a novel in a week — so just blasting through it — and that isn’t being a student of literature. If you’re in English because you want to understand the written word or you want to write it someday, you really need to spend the time reading deeper.

Word association: The Den


How did your arts degree help you get to where you are now/your current career?

As a writer looking back, I’m happy that I was exposed to excellent books and professors who were excited about literature. The idea of reading a piece of work not just for pleasure but reading it to unlock what’s going on and what the writer is trying to accomplish thematically or mechanically is so important; the seed of that skill was started in my BA in English. 

Best part of your job?

Being a writer gives me a backstage pass into the lives of interesting people that I wouldn’t have otherwise. This became clear to me working on this last book of mine where I was travelling around the world to disputed areas and meeting people with incredible, tragic lives. These people I met didn’t know who I was and they had no reason to trust me, yet just the fact that I’m a writer meant that they would invite me into their homes and tell me secrets; I’m incredibly grateful for that. 

How can I steal your job?

You can have it! Just kidding. It would be to read a lot and read the kind of writing that you one day want to write. I would also say to understand that it’s going to be hard. People forget that just because you have a story doesn’t mean you know how to write it; you get no points for living. So my advice to someone who wants to become a writer may sound kind of silly but it’s learn how to write. 

Why would you hire an arts graduate?

English degrees are all about reading literature about humanity and the human experience. This isn’t to take away from other professions, one of my degrees is a science degree, but you could get a science degree with your head in a lab all day with very little human experience and that’s great because we need people like that. However, it’s important to realize that we also need people like English majors who have examined the human condition over time starting from literature like Beowulf. This exposure to the human experience gives students with arts degrees this greater sense of humanity, which is so valuable.

Relive one UCalgary memory...GO!

I know this isn’t a romantic answer but I would relive the times I opted not to go to class and I would go. I spent so much time in Baron’s Court during class time and it would be great if I could relive those moments where I said to myself, “I’ll catch up,” and just do it.