Argentine Author Gloria Casañas Visits Graduate Literature Course
By Kenneth Reeds, WLC
To talk of Latin American literature often means to discuss well-known twentieth-century names: García Márquez, Borges, Vargas Llosa, Neruda, Allende, Paz, etc. Many students have already read these authors or are, at least, familiar with one or two of their texts. This tends to be the case in regard to much of the twentieth century; a period when Latin American literature solidified into an important presence in the international literary dialogue. Nineteenth-century Latin American authors do not enjoy nearly the renown of their twentieth-century successors.
This lack of fame makes nineteenth-century literature from Latin American difficult to teach, but fortunately this semester our graduate-level course was visited by Dr. Gloria Casañas. Dr. Casañas is a lawyer and university professor in Buenos Aires. She is also a novelist who has set romantic fiction in historical Argentina. This ability to make the past matter to twenty-first century sensibilities has earned her success. It also helped our students to move names like Domingo Faustino Sarmiento from simply a Wikipedia biographical entry to something that was human and therefore more meaningful. Dr. Casañas’s latest novel is La maestra de la laguna which deals with the very real women who travelled from the United States to then President Sarmiento’s Argentina to spread normal schools. These schools in turn produced teachers –many of which were also women- who then transformed the education and, therefore, the cultural landscape of a country. Dr. Casañas’s visit was particularly poignant because she attended a course that forms part of our MAT in Spanish. In other words, the students she spoke with were all professional teachers who not only benefitted from learning about literature, but also the novelization of foundational educational figures such as Sarmiento, Horace Mann, and the teachers who worked with them.
Dr. Casañas’s visit crossed the parallel lines of culture and pedagogy which form the delineations of our graduate program. It was made possible thanks to her work as a visiting scholar at Framingham State University where she continues to develop research on Sarmiento and the normal schools. Interestingly, the building she visited –Salem State University’s Sullivan Building- was originally a normal school and is next door to a school named after Horace Mann. It is nice to think that Sarmiento’s reputation as the “Schoolmaster of America” echoed with renewed energy in an old building during a new century.