Since bursting onto the scene nearly two decades ago with his first novel about his experience working in a call center, a novel that later inspired a famous film, Michela Murgia became a public persona – and a lightning rod for Italian political debate.
A novelist, intellectual and civil rights campaigner, she was an outspoken critic of the country’s right-wing transformation at a time when its left-wing parties seemed to be losing their voice, and a feminist and civil rights champion who encourages the acceptance of non-traditional family configurations in a country where the governing parties promote a more conservative vision.
Before he died, on Thursday at the age of 51, he told his friends that he wanted his funeral to be open to everyone.
Many hundreds heeded his invitation.
They came from all walks of life – retired bankers, hotel employees, translators, students – to honor “the symbol of freedom and feminism whose words must be turned into action,” said Maria Luisa Celani, who worked in art and was one of the many gathered outside the Basilica of Santa Maria in Montesanto, known as “the church of artists,” in the center of Rome’s Piazza del Popolo, for the funeral.
Ms. encouraged them. Murgia through his novels and public debates, and moved them to record his dying days on social media: After announcing that he had stage-four kidney cancer in an interview last May in Corriere della Sera, the newspaper in Milan, Ms. Murgia spoke openly about his illness and the importance of living life to the fullest, fearlessly.
Some attendees carried rainbow flags or rainbow umbrellas, a nod to Ms. Fight for LGBTQ rights. Others carried copies of his books that the dog heard. Many of the people, who blocked the streets leading to the square and prompted police to divert traffic, watched the funeral on their cellphones as Italy’s main newspapers broadcast it live online. . Condolences and tributes also flooded social media.
“He was a special person and deserved a special send-off,” said Patrizia Mosca, a recently retired civil servant who said she doesn’t usually attend public funerals – “not even of the fathers.” But Ms. is different. Murgia. “For this beautiful person, I want to be here,” he said.
Even some who opposed the writer’s views offered tributes, including Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose party traces its roots to the destruction of fascism. Writing on social platform X, formerly Twitter, he praised Ms. Murgia as “a woman who fights to defend her ideas, even though they are very different from mine, for which I have great respect.”
Ms. Murgia often calls out many policies of the current government, which he criticizes as signs of a “fascist regime.”
In July, she announced that she married Lorenzo Terenzi, an actor and director, “in articulo mortis,” Latin for “at the point of death,” due to legal considerations. Under Italian law, his blood relatives will inherit his property and be responsible for decisions about his unpublished work and his legacy. Although he did not fight with his family, Mr. Terenzi’s marriage ensured that his will was carried out, friends said.
“If there is another way to guarantee mutual rights, we will never resort to such a patriarchal and limited instrument,” wrote Ms. Go on Instagram.
Days later, Vogue Italia posted photos of the wedding party, which was celebrated by close friends of Ms. Murgia. He also posted pictures of the celebration on Instagram. “The people, first of all. Some are just chatter,” he wrote.
In a long video interview with Italian Vanity Fair in May, he described the “traditional family” based on blood ties as a patriarchal remnant. His idea of the family is the “hybrid,” a social contract of people who choose to live together. He calls it a “queer family,” which in his case includes four young men he considers his children, and some friends.
In this sense, said Alessandro Giammei, a member of the family who teaches at Yale, “Queering overcomes what heterosexuality as a paradigm, as the only option, can do in the whole society and in the whole stories that we said.” This is a model that Ms. Murgia explores in her short stories and novels.
For the wedding, the bust of the bride’s dress – designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri, the artistic director of womenswear at Dior, as part of a “special project” – was emblazoned with the slogan “God Save the Queer .” That is also the title of a 2022 book by Ms. Murgia focuses on the question of whether it is possible to be a feminist within the patriarchal Roman Catholic Church.
Ms. never lost. Murgia believes in that idea: “As a Christian, I believe that faith also requires a feminist and queer perspective,” she wrote.
Her 2011 book “Ave Mary,” also centers on the role of women in the church. And on Saturday, Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, paid tribute to Ms. Murgia, who called him a “talented writer and restless believer.”
However, he may be best known for his political activism.
A native of Sardinia, Ms. Murgia ran an unsuccessful campaign in 2014 to become governor of the region, but his commitment to politics continues. Four years later, he wrote “How to Be a Fascist: A Manual,” a satire of contemporary right-wing politics.
At her funeral on Saturday, Luciano Capponi, a bank employee, said that the campaign of Ms. Murgia “in favor of races” is necessary “in a country like ours.”
In her last book, “Tre Ciotole” (Three Bowls), a compilation of short stories shaped into a novel, Ms. Murgia wrote about the disease.
“He decided to make his death not only a literary gesture but a political gesture,” Aldo Cazzullo, the Corriere della Sera reporter who interviewed Ms. Murgia in May, said in a telephone interview.
“Perhaps the majority of Italians do not agree with everything he says,” said Mr. Cazzullo, “but somehow this cry of his to claim the freedom to love did not fall on deaf ears. This is a banner that the new generation will take up. “
When the coffin of Ms. Murgia from the church, the bells rang and a roar broke out amid long, warm applause. As the car drove away, the crowd chanted “Bella Ciao,” a song recognized by the resistance movement during World War II. Many people are crying.
In the presentation of her last book, in Turin last May, Ms. Murgia said he lived in a moment of great freedom. “I have no limits,” he said, adding, “What are they going to do, fire me?”
And he has a word of advice: “Don’t wait until you have cancer to do the same thing.”