Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures

  • Maddox named University Teacher of the Year by national association

    John Maddox, Ph.D., associate professor of Spanish, was recognized for his innovative uses of technology in the classroom to unite students overseas and dismantle xenophobia, in addition to his advocation for the equity of all people during his lessons.

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  • New scholarship named for writer Liliana Valenzuela endowed at UAB

    The Passion for Poetry Endowed Scholarship Honoring Liliana Valenzuela will be awarded to a student pursuing a Spanish major or minor. Valenzuela is an award-winning poet and acclaimed Spanish translator of literary works.

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  • I am Arts and Sciences: Jolie Thevenot

    International studies alumna Jolie Thevenot is the executive director of the Japan-America Society of Alabama.

    Like many of her fellow students, Jolie Thevenot fulfilled a curriculum requirement to study a language during her freshman year at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. For Thevenot, the experience transcended a curriculum requirement and changed both her life and career trajectory.

    "I'd been interested in Japanese pop culture like anime and manga in high school, so when I was prompted to study a language at UAB, I thought I would just take Japanese 101-102 to enhance my media consumption," she divulged.

    But, as she began studying the language, Thevenot developed meaningful relationships with her professors in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.

    "[The professors] showcased the Japanese culture more so than just the language. It made me really excited to study and use it more as a tool and an avenue to communicate than just a class."

    As a student, Thevenot had many interests and often changed her major. She eventually landed in the International Studies program due to its interdisciplinary nature. That degree program, paired with a minor in Japanese, allowed her to explore courses in sociology, history, foreign cultures, political science, and economics.

    She further cemented her interest in Japanese culture through two study abroad opportunities.

    First, Thevenot was selected for a two-week Birmingham's Sister Cities exchange program in Hitachi, Japan the summer after her freshman year. "That wasn't long enough for me, so I wanted to go back and study [in Japan]." Through UAB Study Abroad, Thevenot participated as an exchange student at Nihon University in Tokyo for her junior year.

    When she returned to UAB for her senior year, Thevenot was selected for an internship with the Japan-America Society of Alabama. During her internship, the executive director left the organization, which allowed Thevenot to lean into a role outside of typical intern duties. She worked closely with board members, helped organize events, and learned how to run the organization. Those experiences gave her the confidence to apply for the executive director role when she graduated in 2017—a position she continues to hold today.

    Founded in 1989, the Japan-America Society of Alabama (JASA) is a private nonprofit organization committed to fostering friendship and understanding between Japan and the U.S. As the Executive Director of JASA, Thevenot is focused on community engagement and outreach, a value she says she learned at UAB by taking advantage of the cultural engagement opportunities and events offered across the university.

    After her first year as Executive Director at JASA, Thevenot was named a Next Generation Fellow by the American Friends of the International House of Japan. The Next Generation Fellows Program supports promising young American leaders in the U.S.-Japan relationship.

    Thevenot says UAB gave her the skillset to think critically about the world around her and consider everything from different angles and perspectives. Her interdisciplinary degree, in particular, inspired her to be open to many opportunities. "The international studies field is so broad that it allowed for different connections with different fields of study... [UAB] gave me the confidence in taking something I don't understand and knowing who to reach out to and what questions to ask," she explained.

    Her advice for current students? Use your time at UAB to get comfortable asking questions and take advantage of UAB's events and opportunities. "You never know when one Wednesday night event will completely change your perspective or get you really excited about something you never knew was possible. There are opportunities like that everywhere," said Thevenot.

    Learn about the international studies major at UAB and the minor in Japanese.

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  • Translating with the future in mind

    During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lourdes Sánchez-López, Ph.D., professor of Spanish in the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, received an unexpected invitation.

    Lourdes Sánchez-López, Ph.D.During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lourdes Sánchez-López, Ph.D., professor of Spanish in the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, received an unexpected invitation.

    At the time, public health experts and campus communicators across UAB were working swiftly to share information about the emerging pandemic with faculty, students, staff, and the community. The effort — now known as UAB United — was instrumental in raising awareness of the pandemic and prompting people across UAB and beyond to take measures to limit risk and exposure to the virus. That said, the team behind the campaign recognized one substantial gap in its communications assets — everything was in English.

    Sánchez-López is an avid proponent of making Birmingham a more equitable and inclusive community for Spanish-speaking residents. So, when UAB reached out and asked for her assistance in translating the COVID-19 messages for those residents, she did not hesitate to offer her expertise and support. She, along with her colleague María Antonia Anderson de la Torre, Ph.D., translated the website content and signage in a relatively short period of time and learned a lot along the way.

    Through this experience, Sánchez-López was inspired to take a broader, systems level view of the issue presented by the UAB United campaign. As she contemplated future translation projects, she looked to her service learning courses (FLL 333 – Foreign Language Service Learning and SPA 485 – Spanish for Leadership in the Workplace) in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. Historically, the courses included significant capstone projects where students worked alongside nonprofit organizatiosn to address a challenge or opportunity — clearly, there was a need to reimagine the capstone component of the courses during the pandemic.

    "I knew students could not be in the community due to COVID-19," said Sánchez-López. "I decided to ask my students to help nonprofits that serve the Latinx community and translate their website content, therefore addressing the disparity in our linguistic landscape."

    Emma Kate Sellers was one of the students in Sánchez-López's Foreign Language Service Learning class and is also pursuing her Spanish for Specific Purposes Certificate. For her capstone, she translated content for the 1917 Clinic at UAB, the largest HIV health care unit in Alabama and one of the country’s leading HIV clinics. Sánchez-López encouraged Sellers to work with the 1917 Clinic because she knew the institution aligned with Sellers's interests and passions. Her project was entitled, "Improving Access to HIV Care for Spanish-Speakers at UAB's 1917 Clinic," which she presented at the 2021 UAB Expo and garnered her the first place award in the service learning category.

    "Service-learning allows students to apply the content we learn in the classroom to real-life situations, which is what I was able to do by working with the 1917 Clinic to translate their website," said Sellers. "In class, we covered the importance of translation and interpretation in making healthcare more accessible to non-English speakers, which I was able to apply through my service-learning project."

    Other students in the Spanish for Leadership class partnered with nonprofit organizations outside of UAB, including the Coosa Riverkeeper, Cahaba Valley Health Care, and the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese.

    For each student, Sánchez-López aimed to illuminate potential career pathways.

    Through the capstone projects, some students, including Sellers, actually discovered they do not wish to pursue careers in translation, which, according to Sánchez-López, is a valuable insight to uncover before graduating and entering the workforce.

    "While I do not want to be a translator in the future, this course did solidify my passion for health equity and collaborating with community partners, and I am grateful that myself, the clinic, and patients all benefitted from this partnership," said Sellers.

    According to Sánchez-López, these first-ever website translation projects deepened relationships with community partners and catalyzed long-term change for Spanish-speaking residents in Birmingham and the community’s linguistic landscape. "It's a sustainable approach," said Sánchez-López.

    Visit the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures website to learn more about the Spanish for Specific Purposes Certificate.

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  • Two UAB students earn spots in State Department’s first virtual language-immersion programs

    With an acceptance rate of less than 10 percent, the Critical Language Scholarship is one of the most competitive scholarships in the United States and the most prestigious language program for U.S. students.

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  • Mentorship, research and volunteer experiences helped shape UAB graduate with medical school plans

    A bilingual speaker of Japanese, Leanna Miku Crafford volunteered with a nonprofit health care clinic, did research in microbiology and led the Japanese Culture Club. She will graduate May 1 with honors magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology.

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  • Celebrate 23 books authored by CAS faculty in 2020

    Writing a book isn’t easy, but faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences produced nearly two-dozen — for the second year in a row. Twenty faculty from 13 departments wrote books on police violence, John Milton, democracy in Bangladesh, addiction, postcommunist theatre and more.

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  • UAB professor wins national award for teachers of German

    Erika Hille Rinker was honored with the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation Teacher Award, which recognizes outstanding teachers of German in the United States who were not born and raised in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. 

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  • Creating community in the classroom — wherever that is

    Five faculty share the tools, tweaks and shifts in mindset that helped them build connections with students during the fall semester.

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  • Noche de Poesía Afro-Colombiana event held virtually for UAB students

    Five award-winning Afro-Colombian poets read their work and dialogued with UAB students as part of Prof. John Maddox's "Music and the African Diaspora in Latin America" class.

    Five award-winning Afro-Colombian poets read their work and dialogued with UAB students as part of Prof. John Maddox's "Music and the African Diaspora in Latin America" class. The event was a collaboration with Prof. Graciela Maglia of Penn State University, who was a dynamic discussant. UAB student D'Vonn Wilcher started the night with a poem by the great Jorge Artel. UAB students dialogued in Spanish with the internationally renowned speakers. Pedro Blas Julio Romero, Ashanti Dinah Orozco Herrera, Ruth Patricia Diago, Luisa Isabel Villa Meriño, and Mary Grueso Romero made the evening unforgettable with their poems about music, love, history, religion, and black identity.

    Watch the full event recording here.

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  • French professor wins national award for mentorship

    Charly Verstraet, Ph.D., an assistant professor of French, was recently awarded “Best University Professor” by the American Journal of French Studies for his mentorship and dedication to his students.

    Charly Verstraet, Ph.D., an assistant professor of French in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, was recently awarded “Best University Professor” by the American Journal of French Studies for his mentorship and dedication to his students.

    Verstraet, originally from the French region of Flanders, knows how daunting publishing in a foreign language can be. He was excited to offer his students an opportunity to publish their work and gain practical experience writing in French when he heard about the American Journal of French Studies essay contest. 

    “Every professor hopes their students will be successful, no matter what they do,” said Verstraet. “One of the biggest rewards is when you receive an email from a student telling you what they have done or become. That warms your heart.”

    Verstraet encouraged five students to submit essays to the journal for publication. Recent alumna Abby Garver received third place for her personal essay. She wrote about her experience with bipolar disorder and how French became her “asylum from the madness.” Garver later became the journal’s Director of Operations after graduating from UAB. 

    “For me, the biggest moment of happiness isn’t me receiving an award but seeing my students succeed,” said Verstraet. “I was much happier for Abby to receive an award than me. She’s at the beginning of her career.”

    The American Journal of French Studies is based in Louisiana and began in 2019. Verstraet encouraged his students to submit work to the journal due to the region’s similarity to South Alabama. Verstraet is interested in the similarities shared by communities and cultures between the South of the U.S. and the Caribbean.

    “There are many, many different Souths just like there are many different Caribbeans. And that’s a question of representation and visibility, of different histories, of different cultures, different waves of immigration. All of these factors play into that,” said Verstraet. “It is important to advocate for all of them, not just one.”

    Currently, Verstraet is teaching a course called, “The French Revolution and its Caribbean Aftershocks.” He is also translating Crusoe’s Footprint by Martinican writer Patrick Chamoiseau in association with the University of Virginia Press. Verstraet uses his experience publishing in a second language to advise his students.

    “I had a student who told me in French this semester, ‘I’m so scared to speak French, I’m still a nestling, I’m still a little bird.’ The fear of flying is part of the process of flying. You have to be scared and jump into the void to learn how to fly,” said Verstraet. “It’s very similar for languages or learning other cultures. It's scary and there’s fear in the process but once you overcome that fear there’s a whole world that’s waiting for you.”

    Learn more about the French concentration in the UAB Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.

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  • Faculty fellows to foster education-abroad experiences for students

    Nine faculty and staff selected for the 2020-21 Faculty Fellows in Education Abroad program will develop courses to promote active and ethical citizenship, cultural immersion and community engagement.

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  • Dr. John Maddox, assistant professor of Spanish, publishes first book

    Dr. John Maddox, an assistant professor of Spanish in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, has published, “Challenging the Black Atlantic: The New World Novels of Zapata Olivella and Gonçalves,” (Bucknell University Press). The book is Maddox’s first literary criticism.

    Dr. John Maddox, an assistant professor of Spanish in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, has published, “Challenging the Black Atlantic: The New World Novels of Zapata Olivella and Gonçalves,” (Bucknell University Press). The book is Maddox’s first literary criticism.

    We talked to Dr. Maddox about his research and how these novels, not well known outside of Latin America, are actually broadly relevant to the issues of race, identity, and justice, with which we continue to struggle in the U.S.

    Summer Guffey: What is your area of research and what inspired your pursuit of that subject? 

    John Maddox: I specialize in Afro-Latin American literature and culture. My areas of focus are the Hispanic Caribbean and Brazil, which also includes the Caribbean coast of Colombia. My subspecialty is contemporary historical novels about slavery, particularly those by Black Latin Americans. I was inspired by the fact that, unlike the United States, there are virtually no slave narratives in the region. The general silence in literature – and in many approaches to history – creates a desire in Afro-Latin American authors and critics to re-create or imagine the perspective of the enslaved through historical fiction. Thankfully, we live in a time when the academy is attempting to overcome its Eurocentrism and seek out what, at first, seem like the lost voices of the past both through archival research and historical fiction.

    SG: How does this book relate to your area of research and other publications of yours? Is this your debut book?

    JM: “Challenging the Black Atlantic” compares the most important novels of Afro-Colombian Manuel Zapata Olivella and Afro-Brazilian Ana Maria Gonçalves. Both works are monumental sagas: They total over 1,700 pages. As I read, I noticed that their work encompassed a much greater area and timespan than the most popular model of African diaspora history, Paul Gilroy’s “Black Atlantic,” hence the title. Gilroy’s book was published in 1993 and popularized an interpretation of African-American writers that wrote outside the United States, making his “Black Atlantic” a term critics use to describe the study of Black culture in a post-modern, trans-national framework—but it has limitations

    SG: What do you hope to accomplish with this book? 

    JM: I hope every reader knows that, by far, most Black people outside of Africa live in Latin America, not the United States. Both Zapata and Gonçalves display unique versions of W.E.B. DuBois’s notion of Black consciousness (a combination of Western and non-Western beliefs), the key theoretical concern of Gilroy. Both authors display a greater emphasis on women and even LGBTQ characters than Gilroy. The novels matter for the future, since they show that Black people have influenced Latin America throughout its past and, certainly, will do so for years to come. 

    What does the prefix “Afro-“ mean in academic scholarship?

    “In 2000, the UN Human Rights Council hosted a conference that united Black leaders from throughout the Americas (the U.S. did not attend). There, the terms, ‘afro-descendant’ and ‘afro-descent’ were agreed upon because they emphasize a person’s cultural background over their skin color. They also link disparate movements under a framework that promotes human rights and anti-discrimination.

    In 2011, UNESCO created the Year of Afro-Descent and, eventually, the Decade of Afro-Descent. We likely would not have as many opportunities to know about ‘Afro-Latin America’ without these UN efforts. And consequently today, you see many conferences and publications working to preserve Afro-Latin American history and culture and decry continued racism.”

    - John Maddox

    SG: How do the experiences of the people in this book apply to society and events today, both in the U.S. and globally?

    JM: The authors deal with some of the most vital issues of our time. Police brutality toward and mass incarceration of Black people are discussed in Zapata’s novel, which includes the United States. Both authors look to the United States for inspiration in their struggles in Latin America. Of course, their setting is different. Generally speaking, the dominant outlook in Latin America is that slavery was not as brutal as the United States and that, since virtually everyone is mixed-race, there is no racism in the region. These authors show the violence of slavery in the past and the continuation of racism. Their novels are relevant today throughout the Americas, with implications for Africa and Europe, since all three regions became tumultuously intertwined by colonialism, which continues today in different forms.

    SG: Who is the intended audience?

    JM: While my primary audience is literary and culture critics of Latin America, I hope scholars and students in other fields will read it as well. Since the novels are long, I include useful summaries of the plots and virtually everything written on the works, so that should help graduate students and those who want a general introduction. Monolingual English speakers in African American studies can access Gonçalves’s text for the first time, since it has not been translated. Scholars in English, literature, history, cultural anthropology, sociology, and religion will also find it useful.

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  • Xavier Turner and Angela Lee named Mr. and Ms. UAB 2021

    Started in 1981, the Mr. and Ms. UAB Scholarship Competition is one of UAB’s longest-standing Homecoming traditions.

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  • Meet 3 students encouraging Blazers to stay safe, compliant during pandemic

    UAB’s campus safety specialists are engaging with students, faculty and staff to boost compliance with health and safety precautions through education and accountability.

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  • UAB is first university in Alabama to award Global Seal of Biliteracy

    Twelve of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures spring 2020 graduates qualified for the seal, with four earning working biliteracy, the highest level.

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  • Student’s essay in French tells her own story, places third in nation

    Abby Garver of Hoover graduates from UAB with degrees in French and Spanish and made the Presidential Honor roll after learning a foreign language became a “haven” from mental illness.

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  • Spanish alumna is chief of UAB Hospital Medicine

    Kierstin Cates Kennedy, M.D., chief of UAB Hospital Medicine and clinical associate professor, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish at UAB.

    Kierstin Cates Kennedy, M.D., chief of UAB Hospital Medicine and clinical associate professor, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish at UAB. She says speaking more than one language has been incredibly beneficial, in her ability to both connect with patients and better understand their experience. Having learned as an adult, she says she understands how difficult it is to learn a second language after so many years of speaking only one, and how much effort it takes to master all of the quirks of another language.

    “Imagine being in a country where you don’t speak the native language, or don’t speak it very well, and the discomfort that would bring,” Kennedy said. “Now imagine being sick, in the hospital and literally afraid for your life — you would want to communicate in your native language to be sure that you fully understand and that the care team fully understand you. I would imagine that our being able to speak Spanish helps bring a level of comfort to patients when they could use it most.”

    Speaking English and Spanish has made her more marketable professionally because she has a skill that many other applicants may not. It has also allowed her to participate in mission work with a mentee, in the mentee’s home country of Nicaragua. Personally, she says it has given her an appreciation for other cultures that she did not have before her foreign language studies; it has also been incredibly helpful with travel out of the country, she says.

    UAB Hospital offers dual-handset telephone consoles in patient care areas to reach interpreters, with access to 150 languages, which has been incredibly helpful in caring for patients during hospitalization. But there is still a need for robust resources in Spanish for post-discharge care and follow-up, Kennedy says.

    “We also need more case managers and social workers who speak Spanish to help with care transitions,” Kennedy said.

    Keep Reading: Need for professionals who speak a second language greater than ever

    Learn how you can add language skills to your resume with the UAB Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. 

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  • Need for professionals who speak a second language greater than ever

    Proficiency in a foreign language can help in almost any career field; for instance, at UAB, French majors have a strong record of admission to medical school.

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  • Story of jailed 17th-century Iberian “mulatto pilgrim” told in new book by John K. Moore Jr.

    Dressing as a priest, a high-status figure, was a way for Soller to get past discrimination; but he was racially profiled for wearing the habit and haircut of the clergy as a man of color.

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