RLL is sad to announce that 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, Fernando 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. His 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 Fernando’s longstanding fascination with the cross-Atlantic characteristics of the Lusophone world. Fernando 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. He came to the Departments of Romance Languages & Literatures and Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan in 2011.
Fernando 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 his 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. Fernando examined in this work the relation between different writing projects and the shifting economic, political, and cultural forces of globalization. His 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 his 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, Fernando Arenas was preparing a third book project titled The Rise of Afro-Portugal: From African Migration to European Citizenship.
Fernando will be remembered by students and colleagues alike as a tireless champion of the teaching of Portuguese and Lusophone cultural studies, 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, his mother Beatriz, brothers Alberto, Juan Pablo and Carlos, and father, Carlos