At the beginning of my undergraduate years at Berkeley, I had a problem which I suppose is still common enough at universities today: I had no idea what I should major in. I resolved this situation by spending my junior year in Italy on the University of California's Education Abroad Program. My experiences in Padua and Venice changed my life, and set me on the course I have followed steadily ever since. For the next ten years, the Berkeley Italian Department became my home, and I was able to return to Northern Italy for two more years during that time. My studies emphasized Italian literature, Latin and medieval literature in French and Provençal. In Padua, my favorite author had been Boccaccio, who eventually became the focus of my doctoral dissertation on the late medieval Italian novella. In 1988, shortly after receiving my Ph.D. in Italian from Berkeley, I joined the faculty at NIU. I am currently Professor of Italian.
I have continued my work on the medieval and early modern Italian novella and prose romance while at NIU. Between 1996 and 1999, I received grants that allowed me to return to Italy to do research on the manuscripts of the novella authors Gentile Sermini and Giulia Bigolina. In 1996, while working in Venice I first came upon one of the works of Giulia Bigolina, the earliest known female author of Italian Renaissance prose fiction, and subsequently determined that she was unknown to contemporary Italian literary criticism. She was the central focus of my work for more than twelve years. In 2004, I published the first complete critical edition with English translation of Bigolina's surviving works. This was followed in 2011 by my monograph on her, which emphasizes her interpretation of early modern notions of painting, aesthetics and the cult of female beauty. I have also made forays into modern literature, researching the works of another of my favorite authors, Gabriele D'Annunzio. Currently, I am co-editing and contributing to an anthology of articles that will be titled Decadence, Degeneration and the End: Studies in the European Fin de Siècle. Outside of the university, one of my principal interests is early music: I have been playing recorder with friends since college, and more recently I have taken up the treble viol (viola da gamba). I also pursue a few other peripheral passions, such as writing poetry and essays on current ideas and events, preparing Mediterranean cuisine for family or visitors and tending my fish ponds.
- Kissing the Wild Woman: Concepts of Art, Beauty, and the Italian Prose Romance in Giulia Bigolina's Urania. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011.
- Giulia Bigolina. Urania: The Story of a Young Woman’s Love, and The Novella of Giulia Camposanpiero and Thesibaldo Vitaliano. Edited and translated by Christopher Nissen. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2004.
- “Hagiographic Romance and the Wild Life in Boccaccio's Novella of Beritola (Decameron II, 6).” Italica 88.4 (2011).
- “The Motif of the Woman in Male Disguise from Boccaccio to Bigolina.” The Italian Novella. Edited by Gloria Allaire, 201-217. New York: Routledge, 2003.
- “Subjects, Objects, Authors: The Portraiture of Women in Giulia Bigolina’s Urania.” Italian Culture 18 (2000), 15-31.
- “Apostolo Zeno's Phantom Author: The Strange Case of Gentile Sermini da Siena.” Italica 74:2 (1997), 151-163.
- “La stazione termale e le cure sociali nelle Novelle di Gentile Sermini.” Il Veltro 40 (1996), 221-226.
- Ethics of Retribution in the Decameron and the Late Medieval Italian Novella: beyond the Circle. Lewiston: Mellen, 1993.
- “Rejection, Death and the Eternal Law: The 'Wounded Tree' in Inferno and D’Annunzio’s 'Villa Chigi'.” Lectura Dantis 12 (1993), 53-64.
Office: WH 113
Ph.D., UC Berkeley, 1987
M.A., UC Berkeley, 1981
B.A., UC Berkeley, 1978