During the summer of 2018, Alex Aguayo, Student Ally for Diversity for Comparative Literature spoke with three CompLit alumni about their experiences as graduate students in the department. This interview with Bram Acosta is part of that series.
Bram Acosta is Assistant Professor of Latin American Cultural Studies in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Arizona. A graduate of the Department of Comparative Literature PhD Program, Bram researches orality and writing in Latin American cultural discourse. In fact, his dissertation, Thresholds of Illiteracy: Orality and Biopolitics in Latin America, was published in 2014 by Fordham University Press under the title Thresholds of Illiteracy: Theory, Latin America, and the Crisis of Resistance.
Born in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua but raised in El Paso, Texas, Bram’s path to graduate education began with his undergraduate studies at institutions like University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and the University of Southern California, from which he ultimately received his bachelor’s degree. As Bram explains, his undergraduate education got off to a rough start with brief stints at UTEP and a local junior college, but once at USC he was able to thrive. At USC Bram studied philosophy, English and religion, enjoying most courses on the philosophy of religion and those that approached the field with a sense of reflexivity. His interest in Comparative Literature arose from his experience of the English department, which approach to texts he found limiting and allowed little room for reflection. Ultimately, his experience with the Comparative Literature department at USC led him to pursue graduate studies in the discipline.
At the University of Michigan, Bram was able to strengthen his interests in theory and Latin American literature. Comparative Literature, he explains, helped him develop the theoretical questions that he would then ask in relation to the Latin American literature. He considers Anton Shammas’ “spectacular” course on translation theory as fundamental to his graduate studies; so much so that Shammas sat on his committee. Aside from the Department’s strength in theory, Bram also emphasizes the Department’s flexibility as one of its strong suits. In this respect, he was able to work with professors in Romance Languages and Literatures and Comparative Literature. As he puts it, the Department’s curriculum offered him “a remarkably open way to facilitate research.”
Bram cites several other resources as vital to his success as graduate student and scholar. The Rackham Merit Fellowship allowed him to strike a balance between research, coursework, and teaching. “I would not have been able to do it without it,” he affirms, adding that he found support in the intellectual community of RMF students. Aside from the RMF, he was excited for the resources offered by the Sweetland Writing Center and the Hatcher Graduate Library.
As an Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona, Bram is glad to have been able to design his own courses during his time at Michigan. He believes Comparative Literature at Michigan gave him the necessary preparation to be able to design syllabi and teach content-based courses. For those interested in pursuing an academic career, Bram notes that the job market is vastly different from what it was in 2007, before the economic crisis hit. He does, however, advise graduate students going into the job market to be able to articulate and demonstrate their belonging to a particular field of study. He suggests teaching courses and texts that pertain to one’s primary field of study. For him, this consisted of teaching literature courses in the Spanish department, and having a dissertation committee comprised of Latin Americanists.