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

Summer Guffey

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.

Dr. Maddox' new book "Challenging the Black Atlantic"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.

  • 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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  • 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.

    Read more...
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    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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  • 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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  • Professor of Spanish publishes new book

    John K. Moore, Jr., Ph.D., associate professor of Spanish in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, has published a new book.

    John K. Moore, Jr., Ph.D., associate professor of Spanish in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, has published a new book. “Mulatto • Outlaw • Pilgrim • Priest: The Legal Case of José Soller, Accused of Impersonating a Pastor and Other Crimes in Seventeenth-century Spain” (Brill) is both a critical study and scholarly translation of a legal case from the late-17th-century in which the Hapsburg empire brought charges against a man on pilgrimage from Lisbon, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

    Moore has long been fascinated by the case, entitled, “His Majesty’s Representative v. José Soller, Mulatto Pilgrim, for Impersonating a Priest and Other Crimes.” In 2015, Moore received a Research Fellowship Award from the College of William & Mary’s Institute for Pilgrimage Studies to help tell the story of this fascinating “mulatto pilgrim.” In 2016, he was awarded a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies to continue work on the project; in 2017 he received a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) that helped him finish the work and land the Brill contract.

    “Mulatto • Outlaw • Pilgrim • Priest” gives readers fascinating access to this centuries-old case and shows how Iberians of black-African ancestry faced discrimination and mistreatment. It also illuminates an era of faith and devotion in which religious pilgrims would frequently make long journeys to sacred sites, including Santiago de Compostela, which remains one of the most famous pilgrimages in the world. The book is also illustrated with artwork from the era.

    “The project is highly interdisciplinary,” Moore says. “It involves not just art history but also history itself, race and ethnicity, pilgrimage and religion, literature and culture, Hispanic studies, and legal history. Soller’s story is a micro-history that encompasses myriad fields.”

    Moore continues, “This book is an opportunity for readers to have an armchair travel experience in Portugal and Spain since so many of us are confined right now. There’s a lot of vicarious adventure (and misadventure) to be had in José Soller’s journey, trial, and probable jail break. We also can learn about a black life that matters still today.”

    Dr. Moore's book is available online via UAB Libraries.

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  • The first annual undergraduate poetry contest in French

    The French section organized its first annual undergraduate poetry contest in French entitled Le temps des poètes.

    "Le poète est celui qui inspire bien plus que celui qui est inspiré" — Paul Eluard ("The poet is much more the one who inspires than the one who is inspired")

    The French section of the UAB Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures organized its first annual undergraduate poetry contest in French entitled Le temps des poètes. All students in French participated by writing a poem. A committee of Francophone speakers was commissioned to select the winner and second prize for each level (100, 200, 300, 400). The following students were selected as first and second prize winners:

    100 level:

    • Winner — Keishace Jackson
    • Second prize — Olivia Haskin

    200 level

    • Winner — Arshnoor Grewal
    • Second prize — Augustus Mithoff

    300 level

    • Winner — Jessica Stokes

    400 level

    • Winner — Jack Young
    • Second prize — Abigail Garver

    Download the collection of poems of the 2020 undergraduate poetry contest in French.

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  • Markell Jones and Mary Ann Jimenez named Mr. and Ms. UAB 2020

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

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