- University Distinguished Professor
I was born to Cuban immigrant parents in Canada, grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, earned my BA in English from Yale University and my PhD in English from UC Irvine. I came to KU as an Assistant Professor in 1997. In 2022, I was named a University Distinguished Professor.
The central issue I address in my work on 20th century U.S. literary studies is the conjunction between literature, group identity, and what we might call activism, or the ability to promote social change. My research focuses on how these issues play themselves out in U.S. Latino/a literature. Recent literary scholarship has paid particular attention to how literature, understood broadly to include life-writing, oral histories, and testimonio, can contribute to "community" building, solidarity movements, social activism, and human rights struggles, and can thus play a role in inducing social change. It is this possibility that my scholarship is concerned with. My research is guided by an investment in making literary studies relevant to the "real"--to real, lived experiences--and in connecting what I do as a literary critic to larger discussions of effective social and political practices for groups that have experienced marginalization, disempowerment, or more extreme forms of oppression. As I see it, literature is one of many cultural forms that can participate in this larger discussion, because "good stories" tell powerful, engrossing narratives about who we are, what our place in the world is, what we can do about it, and what challenges we may face along the way. Literature can also introduce educated, middle-class audiences in the West to social crises far removed from them.