Every year, COPOMIAO honors women of Italian descent to spotlight their contributions, from culture and industry to philanthropy and activism. Today, we present the latest Donna Distinta Award to Dolores Alfieri Taranto. Through years of study and dialogue surrounding culture, ancestry and artisanship, this Italian American influencer has generated a style of intellectualism that is pulling in a wide mix of inspired audiences.
Born to Southern Italian immigrants in the Hudson Valley region of New York, Dolores Alfieri Taranto was raised with old world values and traditional mores, an experience that greatly influenced her character and work. Her parents emigrated from the Campania region of Italy not long after their wedding day, bringing with them a view of child raising and family life that was often in contrast to the modern world Dolores grew up in outside the home. Raised speaking Napolitano, the regional language of her parents, words became a particular passion for Dolores, and she began writing at an early age, along with other creative pursuits.
She was the first in the long line of her ancestry, including her own immediate family, to graduate from college, an accomplishment that meant a great deal to her parents especially, neither of whom attended school past the fourth grade. As such, Dolores came to take reading and writing with great seriousness, knowing it was a gift generations of her ancestors had been denied.
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Her love of literature and art burgeoned into young adulthood, where she was influenced by great American authors like William Faulkner and Willa Cather, who wrote of people and place, tradition, history, and even the character of natural landscape, all themes that would come to dominate Taranto’s own work. She began her career at the Oxford American, a highly regarded, award-winning literary magazine that covers the art and culture of the American South. She went on to work as an editor and writer in newspapers and magazines, all the while writing fiction and non-fiction as well. She’s been an attendee at the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Millay Colony for the Arts, has been Artist in Residence at Byrdcliffe Arts Colony, and is a scholarship recipient of the Norman Mailer Center.
In 2015, she co-founded The Italian American Podcast, the first podcast dedicated to helping Italian Americans celebrate their heritage. The show quickly developed a cult following, filling a void to connect the Italian American community in a digital-age format. The show racked up a roster of stellar guests including iconic writer Gay Talese, baseball Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, and blockbuster Hollywood directors Joe and Anthony Russo, to mention just a few, all discussing their Italian roots and experiences.
In 2016, she began work as Senior Media Consultant at The National Italian American Foundation in Washington, D.C. Soon after, she was appointed to serve as Director of Italian Affairs for the State of New York, Office of the Governor, where she served with passion and dedication for the Italian American community, as well as her home state. In her time working for the Governor, she was instrumental in securing the Columbus Statue in New York City’s Columbus Circle a place on the National Register of Historic Places; facilitating the creation and unveiling of the Mother Cabrini statue in New York City’s Battery Park; and ensuring the appointment of Italian Americans to both the New York State Council on the Arts as well as the board of the City University of New York. She has received the I Giullari di Piazza Award, been named Woman of the Year by the Columbia Association and awarded the Ambasciatore Award by the Italian American Museum of Little Italy.
Always a creative at heart, Dolores began to feel the need to branch out of conversations based solely on Italian American heritage, to talk about the ways in which people of all ethnic backgrounds can connect via their shared ancestral roots. In 2020, she began her second podcast, “Bella Figura—The Tradition of Living Beautifully,” where she enjoys conversations with some of the top voices in self-help, wellness, and the arts. Bella Figura explores the ways we can tap into our heritage—whatever that heritage may be—to make our lives as beautiful as they can be.
After leaving the Governor’s office, and while honored to have served in such a capacity, Dolores gratefully returned to a pace of life that suits her—raising her family, gardening, writing, taking photographs. Bella Figura has expanded to include a vibrant Substack publication, “The Tradition of Living Beautifully,” where she engages with subscribers on topics from learning to see happiness not as a chase, but a harvest, to recipes for spaghetti pie and strawberry bruschetta, to ways to honor the dead and connect with our ancestors. Her passionate following on Instagram turns to her for her poetic writing and thoughtful exploration of motherhood, family life, ways to slow the pace of modern living, as well as connecting to the natural world and one’s ancestors and cultural roots. She often hears from readers and listeners that she has articulated something they have felt for some time but have been unable to express. They appreciate her old world sensibility and see her as a genuine and inspiring voice in a sea of noise and empty entertainment.
Taranto is a Dame in the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George, one of the oldest orders of knighthood in the world, and she serves as co-vice president for New York City of the Italian Sons and Daughters of America. She lives in upstate New York where she tends to her flock of six chickens along with her husband, Andrew, and son, Angelo Giovanni, who is named after his grandfathers.
This show explores ways to beautify all facets of your life using heritage, culture, beauty by hand, old world style, and ancestral traditions. Join Dolores in exploring bella figura, the Italian tradition of living beautifully, through down-to-earth conversations with extraordinary people. These are spiritual conversations for the rest of us. Your heritage is your superpower. Learn how to wield it.