Local Dunmore author copes with personal tragedy through art

Tony Amico signing books for students

Dunmore native and inspirational author Tony Amico signs copies of his book, "Painting Life With Words of Encouragement," for students at Penn State Scranton, after speaking to them about overcoming his son's tragic suicide and finding his way through art and writing.

Credit: Amy Gruzesky

SCRANTON, Pa. — Tony Amico didn't go to college, but on Tuesday, Dec. 4, the Dunmore native, a professional mason by trade, an artistic painter, and now a published author, was the guest speaker at Penn State Scranton, where he spoke to students, faculty, staff and community members.

"I never thought that I, someone who had never even gone to college ... I couldn't wait to get out of high school ... would end up speaking at Penn State," he said. "But here I am."

Amico was invited to speak at Penn State Scranton's UNICO Italian Heritage Series because of an inspirational book he penned titled, "Painting Life With Words of Encouragement," a book he wrote after the tragic suicide of his only child, his son, Michelangelo. The crowd sat silent while Amico talked about his last day with his son, and the heart-wrenching experience of finding him after he had taken his own life at the age of 14.

"It was a day just like today, only warmer. We went for breakfast; Michel had a cheese omelet ..." he recounted. The two went to several jobs that Amico had to work on that day, ate lunch together and on the ride home Michel started falling asleep; Amico playfully turned the wheel of the truck a bit to cause Michel's head to bump the window and wake him up. Typical father and son high-jinks on what seemed like a random, typical day.

But it wouldn't end as a typical day, said Amico. Later that evening, Michelangelo, would shoot himself in the family's bathroom. He was found by his father, who still remembers the sound of Michelangelo's hair, cut in a crewcut style, bristling against the side of the bathtub as he took him in his arms, letting out a "wail" that Amico said sounded like something he had never before heard or made in his life.

When he was younger, Amico had found a creative release in painting, but it was a different art form — writing — that helped him cope with the tragedy and aftermath of Michelangelo's death.

His writings, begun as a form of self-therapy, eventually were noticed by others. According to Amico's biography in the book, by the time he met his wife, Valerie, there was already a body of work. Valerie introduced him to social media, where he began to attract a following and then, with her encouragement and that of his dear friend, Laura Summa, he turned those writings into his book, copies of which dozens of audience members took with them before they left the event.

The Penn State Scranton UNICO Italian Heritage Series was created thanks to a permanent endowment established by the Scranton Chapter of UNICO National. The endowment specifically funds a three-tiered program in Italian Studies, Heritage and Culture at Penn State Scranton that focuses on academics, co-curricular and out-of-classroom experiences, as well as community outreach.

The program is designed to complement the campus' existing cultural offerings in Spanish, French, German and Chinese, while expanding learning opportunities for students and community members interested in furthering their knowledge of Italian culture and heritage.

This endowment from UNICO allows the campus to create additional opportunities for cultural enrichment, particularly for those interested in further exploring Italian history, heritage and culture.