A polyglot who could fluently speak Portuguese, Spanish, French and Cape Verdean Creole, Fernando Arenas’ passion for other languages and cultures was embodied not only in his scholarship but also in his every-day life. He shared such a passion with his students, colleagues and institution by organizing tirelessly concerts at the Ark or the Lusophone Film Festival at the Michigan Theater, ensuring free access to students and the general public alike.
The last event he organized at the University of Michigan was on behalf of the International Conference of the American Portuguese Studies Association that took place in October 2018. The conference and cultural events (Cape Verdean artist Ida Abreu and Angolan singer Waldemar Bastos) associated to it were considered a real success, all the more appreciated as Fernando was battling his illness in the midst of the event.
His curiosity and openness towards the world made everyone around him feel included and listened to. He was warm, generous and kind to many and he faced his illness with courage and unabashed optimism and positivity that were truly inspiring to those close to him. He will be sorely missed.- Marlyse Baptista
Fernando Arenas Obituary
Fernando Arenas, 56, Professor of Lusophone Literatures and Cultural Studies in the Departments of Romance Languages & Literatures and Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, died in Minneapolis on October 30th after a courageous battle with cancer.
Educated at The English School in Bogotá, Colombia, Arenas went on to complete his B.A. in French and Political Science at Northern Arizona University in 1986 and his Ph.D. in Luso-Brazilian Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley in 1994. Arenas’s Ph.D. dissertation, which examined the limits of language and subjectivity in the writings of the acclaimed Portuguese author Vergílio Ferreira and the internationally renowned Brazilian writer, Clarice Lispector, exemplifies Arenas’s longstanding fascination with the cross-Atlantic characteristics of the Lusophone world.
Arenas joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 1995 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies. He was granted promotion with tenure in 2001, was invited to serve as a Visiting Professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University in 2003, attaining the rank of Professor at the University of Minnesota in 2010. Arenas came to the Departments of Romance Languages & Literatures and Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan in 2011.
Arenas was widely recognized in his field for his innovative and interdisciplinary approaches to the complexities of the Lusophone world, as was highlighted in the co-edited volume he published in 2002, titled Lusosex: Gender and Sexuality in the Portuguese-Speaking World, a volume that made new inroads into the study of Portuguese since it examined the representation of sexualities in Brazil, Portugal, Angola and Cape Verde from disciplines such as literature, history, popular culture, and modern dance.
This volume was followed a year later by Arenas’s first monograph, Utopias of Otherness: Nationhood and Subjectivity in Portugal and Brazil (University of Minnesota Press, 2003), which explored shifting notions of nationhood, subjectivity, and utopia from a Trans-Atlantic perspective. Arenas examined in this work the relation between different writing projects and the shifting economic, political, and cultural forces of globalization. Arenas’s second book, Lusophone Africa: Beyond Independence (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), which was augmented and recently translated into Portuguese as Africa lusófona, além da independência (University of São Paulo Press, 2019), marked a fundamental change in Arenas’s scholarly trajectory. A study of contemporary cultural production of Portuguese-speaking Africa, Lusophone Africa addresses globalization in the aftermath of colonialism by drawing on popular music, film, literature, cultural history, geopolitics, and critical theory, putting forth a conceptual framework for understanding, for the first time, recent cultural and historical developments in Portuguese-speaking Africa.
At the time of his untimely death, Arenas was preparing a third book project titled The Rise of Afro-Portugal: From African Migration to European Citizenship.
Fernando Arenas will be remembered by students and colleagues alike as a tireless champion of the teaching of Portuguese language, understood in the broadest sense through its myriad geographies and cultural forms across the undergraduate and graduate curricula. He is survived by his partner, David Asselstine, and other family members.
-Department of Romance Language and Literature
As many of you may know, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2018.
He was loved by many for his warm and engaging personality, and is survived by his partner, David, and other family members.
He was a wonderful scholar of Lusophone culture, especially of film, literature, and culture, publishing many articles and these books:
Lusosex: Gender and Sexuality in the Portuguese-speaking World, ed. with Susan Canty Quinlan (U of Minnesota Press, 2002)
Utopias of Otherness: Nationhood and Subjectivity in Portugal and Brazil (U of Minnesota Press, 2003)
Lusophone Africa: Beyond Independence (U of Minnesota Press, 2011), just released in Portuguese translation,
África Lusófona: Além da Independência, trans. Cristiano Mazzei ( University of São Paulo Press, 2019)