Professor awarded NEH grant to lead summer seminar in Brazil

Home of one of the greatest literary traditions of the world, Brazil publishes more literature than the other major Latin American countries combined. Yet, much of Brazilian literature seems to escape the attention of Latin American professional critics and scholars who often fail to look beyond the Spanish/Portuguese divide.

Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and led by ASU Regents' Professor David Foster, this 2013 summer seminar for selected university and college teachers will address a need for more recognition and knowledge of Brazilian literature in American education.

“Literary modalities such as critical realism, social realism, dirty realism, and even a much questioned magical realism, have all been explored in complex ways by Brazilian writers," Foster says. "However, in the context of the overwhelming weight of Spanish in the United States, few find the systematic opportunity to enter into the formidable world of literature written in Brazilian Portuguese. The goal of this seminar is to remedy this situation for 16 carefully chosen participants from across the country."

Overarching incidences of urban identity, longstanding issues regarding immigration, history of feminist and gender issues, and the indigenous populations’ contributions to poetry and narrative involving questions of race and ethnicity are just some of the unique topics that are addressed in Brazilian writings, and that will be discussed in the program.

Five major and canonical novels of Brazilian literature will be covered beginning with a complex examination of the emerging urban middle class in late 19th century Rio de Janeiro by so-called founder of contemporary Brazilian fiction Joaquim Maria Machado De Assis. The selected works will extend to 1980, highlighting major moments in Brazilian fiction. 

“These five works are nodes in a network of 20th-century Brazilian fiction, and in one way or another they relate to most of the major literary activity in Brazil in that century,” says Foster.

Discussions of each text will be devoted to one of the country’s four largest cities including São Paulo, Curitiba, Porto Alegre, and Rio de Jeneiro.

Formal classes will be balanced by trips to museums, libraries, theaters, exhibits and other cultural venues plus organized on-foot tours to gain a real “sense” of the city. A language component will be included in the seminar for those interested in developing their skills in written and spoken Portuguese.

Professor Foster will be working individually with each participant on their professional research projects, with previous trips resulting in the translation of Brazilian novels, essays on Brazilian novelists and institutional efforts to enhance the presence of Brazilian literature and Portuguese in education.

Given that more than half a million Brazilians have emigrated to the United States in recent decades, there is a need to increase cultural awareness and understanding about Brazilian literature and culture at our institutions of higher education.

“[Brazilian] immigrants and their children find U.S. society woefully ignorant about Brazilian culture, beginning with the common assumption that Brazil, like the rest of Latin America, speaks Spanish, accompanied by the equally common assumption that all life in Latin America is what they may have seen during brief tourist forays into Mexico,” says Foster. “One of the goals of the seminar is to enhance the awareness on the part of the participants, the majority of whom will either be teachers of Latin American studies or teachers of other subjects interested in Latin America, of the significant cultural differences of Brazil.”

For more information about the program contact Professor Foster by email at

Story by Alaina Hasenmiller, communications intern, School of International Letters and Cultures