From IWU Magazine, Spring 2014 edition
Three to Read
Faculty publish innovative scholarship and creative work.
Stories by KIM HILL
Faculty scholars at Illinois Wesleyan have a long tradition of publishing widely in
their fields — a practice that continued this academic year with the publication of
three acclaimed books by IWU professors.
A Hispanic Studies professor brought poems by a renowned Spanish author to an English-speaking
audience, while a second faculty author saw a volume of her poetry win a major literary
prize. Meanwhile, a religion professor’s newest book yielded surprising insights into
the lives of women in colonial Brazil.
For years, Professor of Hispanic Studies Carmela Ferradáns has been fascinated by
the work of Spanish writer Ana Rossetti, a transformative figure in 20th- and 21st-century
That fascination reached fruition as Ferradáns published Incessant Beauty (2LeafPress, 2014). It is the first dual language Spanish/English collection of Rossetti’s
Ferradáns worked with Rossetti for a decade to select poems offering a wide range
of themes and poetic registers that span more than 30 years. Though widely studied
in the United States, Rossetti’s work has never been published in a bilingual collection
of this scope.
“Ferradáns has crafted an unrepentant, unconfessional poetics in which narratives
obscure as much as they reveal about a speaker whose very identity is in flux,” wrote
Virginia Bell, a senior editor with RHINO Poetry who teaches English at Loyola University Chicago, in her review of the book. “In
so doing, Ferradáns has given Anglophone readers a gift whose beauty is, indeed, relentless
and incessant. And we are very grateful.”
Many women poets emerged in Spain after censorship restrictions were lifted following
the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. Rossetti grew in prominence by using
verbal artistry, playfulness and daring to explore previously taboo topics such as
sexuality and gender. Among Ferradáns’ favorite works from that early period is “Calvin
“I have been reading and teaching this poem for more than 20 years now, and I find
it still a wondrous journey of desire,” said Ferradáns. “Rossetti’s poetry is so tactile
you can almost touch and feel the words and images.”
In Incessant Beauty, Ferradáns hopes to bring Rossetti, who is among the best-known living poets of Spain,
to an English-speaking audience.
Collaborating with Ferradáns was Robert Bray, R. Forrest Colwell Professor of American
Literature at Illinois Wesleyan, who translated Rossetti’s “Poetics” for the book.
Mixed-media artist Spencer Sauter ’70, an adjunct art professor at IWU, created the
digital painting used for the cover art.
Ferradáns specializes in contemporary Spanish poetry with a strong interest in critical
theory and cultural studies. In addition to language courses, she teaches modern and
contemporary Spanish cultural history and literature. She joined the IWU faculty in
1992 after earning a Ph.D. at the University of California, Irvine.
Connecting to tyranny
A collection of poems by Assistant Professor of English Joanne Diaz is the winner
of this year’s Brittingham Prize in Poetry.
My Favorite Tyrants (The University of Wisconsin Press, 2014) was awarded the annual prize for the best
book-length manuscript of original poetry. Guest judge Naomi Shihab Nye, a Pushcart
Prize–winning poet and novelist, selected Diaz’s book out of approximately 600 submissions,
calling the work “rich with smart, deft scenes — places you may not have been before,
exactly, but feel strangely at home in.”
The word “tyrant” summons images of various infamous historic and political figures
— some of whom make appearances in the poems. But Diaz is equally interested in personal
forms of tyranny.
“These tyrants emerge in familial relationships, in erotic relationships, the way
we demand things of each other and the way we try to control each other,” said Diaz.
“I also try to examine how the speaker of the poems can be a kind of tyrant, too.”
She explained that the structure of the poems in My Favorite Tyrants differs from her first collection of poems, The Lessons, the recipient of the Gerald Cable Book Award in 2009. She characterizes the poems
in Tyrants as “more voluminous and conversational.” Some reviewers said these poems read more
like essays with line breaks, a description that pleases Diaz.
“We get the word ‘essay’ from the Old French assai, which means ‘to attempt’ and so
I like thinking of these poems as attempts to understand, negotiate or argue with
something,” she explained. “In some of the poems, I’ll connect a familial problem
to something that’s happening politically.”
After tackling her Boston upbringing, the histories of various diseases and their
cures, political despots and tyranny in her first two books, Diaz is writing a series
of poems on electricity for her next collection.
“It’s nice to be writing new material,” said Diaz. Over the past year, she has, with
Ian Morris, been co-editing a book titled The Little Magazine in America: A Contemporary Guide, forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press. Diaz joined the IWU faculty in
2008 after earning a doctorate in English literature from Northwestern University.
Her poetry has appeared in AGNI, The American Poetry Review and Prairie Schooner, among others. She is also a past recipient of writing fellowships from the Illinois
Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Carole Myscofski brings insights from her research into the classroom. (Photo by Marc
Despite the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church’s role in colonial Brazil, women
managed to thrive within the strict rules of the church and society’s constraints
on women’s roles, according to a new book from Carole A. Myscofski.
The McFee Professor of Religion at IWU, Myscofski drew on original manuscripts and
records from Jesuit missionaries, church officials and Portuguese Inquisitors to research
and write Amazons, Wives, Nuns and Witches: Women and the Catholic Church in Colonial Brazil,
1500-1822 (University of Texas Press, 2013).
The book provides a rare look at Catholic colonial views of the ideal woman, patterns
in women’s education, religious views on marriage and sexuality, the history of women’s
convents and retreat houses and the development of magical practices among women in
the colonial era of Brazil.
“This is history at its best — nuanced, animated, and theoretically informed,” wrote
R. Andrew Chesnut, Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia
Commonwealth University. “Like the bandeirantes of colonial Brazil, Myscofski is a trailblazer leading us into the uncharted territory
of the lives of women during the era of Portuguese dominion.”
“No book in the English language covers the topic of Brazilian women,” said Myscofski,
who also directs the Women’s Studies Program at Illinois Wesleyan. “That’s partly
because there are so few records from this period, and almost nothing in the voices
of women themselves.”
She noted primary sources such as diaries, letters and essays are lacking during the
period from the launch of Portuguese colonization in 1500 to Brazil’s declaration
of independence in 1822. A historian of religions, Myscofski said the records of the
Portuguese Inquisition became a central source for her research.
The tone of women’s responses to the Inquisitor surprised and delighted Myscofski.
“The Inquisitor was someone who could have you arrested, possibly imprisoned for the
rest of your life, or shipped back to Lisbon to be put on trial and killed,” she explained.
“And women were refusing to be categorized” for their explanations of certain cooking
practices (which meant they might be keeping Jewish practices) or for certain prayers
or remedies (which might or might not have meant they were practicing magic).
“That kind of pushback was a real surprise to me,” added Myscofski. “I was happy to
see they weren’t all being submissive, and also to discover they weren’t all being
persecuted for being witches.”
Another happy surprise during her research was the discovery of a box of 17th-century
documents in the National Cathedral in Rio de Janeiro. The documents contained the
requests of young women and girls to enter the convent. “These are so rare because
the convents themselves did not keep these things as ordinary practice, some of the
convents in Rio have burned, and the documents themselves are very fragile because
they haven’t been kept in good storage,” said Myscofski.
The box’s contents also revealed that not all convent residents were novices. Young
women from leading families who were awaiting suitable marriages, as well as widows
who had no family, sometimes lived in convents for years.
Most surviving documents are first-person accounts of the male Portuguese explorers
and missionaries. Myscofski’s research indicated the white men who first visited Brazil
expected the indigenous women to be docile or fierce, sometimes both at the same time,
or even warlike Amazons.
“The conflicting ideals of what women should be and what the explorers and missionaries
were seeing — neither of these reflected any sort of reality of how women lived,”
said Myscofski. “Women were neither the ideal mute, modest Christian women nor were
they savages. They were just folks trying to do their best in either culture.”
The author earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and joined the faculty at
Illinois Wesleyan in 1991. Myscofski served as the area editor for “New Religions”
for the HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion and as the editor of the Academy Series, sponsored by the American Academy of Religions and published by Oxford University