Latin American Studies

Sarah J. Townsend

Sarah J. Townsend
Associate Professor of Spanish & Portuguese


PhD, New York University
BA, University of Iowa


I received my PhD from New York University and came to Penn State after completing a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Humanities at UC-Berkeley and an American Council of Learned Societies New Faculty Fellowship at UC-Santa Barbara.

In broad terms, my work deals with the connections among culture, politics, and economics from the nineteenth century to the present. Most often, I explore this dynamic through a focus on theater and/or other media in Latin America, though both my research and teaching interests are comparative in nature. In addition to Spanish and Portuguese, I also work with materials in French, Italian, and German, and once upon a time I spent two years studying Yoruba.

My book The Unfinished Art of Theater: Avant-Garde Intellectuals in Mexico and Braziwas published by Northwestern UP in July 2018. The Unfinished Art of Theater received an Honorable Mention for the Best Book in the Humanities Prize (2018) awarded by the Mexico Section of the Latin American Studies Association, and was shortlisted for the Modernist Studies Association First Book Prize. My other publications include Stages of Conflict: A Critical Anthology of Latin American Theater and Performance (co-edited with Diana Taylor). "The Spectral Stage of Édouard Glissant's Monsieur Toussaint," an article on a play about the Haitian Revolutionary Toussaint Louverture, was awarded the Modern Drama Outstanding Article Prize of 2018.

For the past four summers I have been conducting research in Manaus, Brazil for a second book project called Opera in the Amazon: Culture, Capital, and the Global Jungle. This project revolves around the Teatro Amazonas, an opera house built at the height of the Amazonian rubber boom of the late nineteenth century and now the site of an annual opera festival. Opera in the Amazon will illuminate the changing dynamics of culture and capital in the region from the late 19th century to the present by examining the building’s history (including political meetings and other “non-artistic” events held within its walls), operatic productions performed on its stage (including newer works by Latin American composers), and films and literary works in which the theater appears. In addition to intervening in debates about extractive economies and the role of the Amazon within Brazil, it will challenge deeply held assumptions by showing that opera is and has long been a ‘global’ genre.

In the shorter term, I am working to complete a 20,000-word book called “Theatre & Latin America” for Palgrave Macmillan’s Theatre & series. This slim volume will provide a brief overview of theater in Latin America for non-specialists while also offering an original argument about how the two terms in the title can illuminate one another. What can theatre reveal about Latin America, and vice versa? I am also working on an essay about literature and culture in the city of Manaus from 1870 to 1930 for a volume of Cambridge UP's forthcoming series Transitions in Latin American Literature, as well as an essay on opera and/as experimental theater for another edited collection.

In 2019-2020, I am serving as the faculty coordinator for Redesigning Modernities, a multi-year project led by the School of Global Languages and Literatures at Penn State that will facilitate collaborative research and curriculum development devoted to the exploration of modernity - in all its unevenness -  across the globe. I also coordinate the annual Hemispheric Americas lecture series, and I am a current member of the Executive Committee of the Drama and Performance Forum of the Modern Language Association.

For more information and copies of my publications visit:

Select Publications:

  • The Unfinished Art of Theater: Avant-Garde Intellectuals in Mexico and Brazil (Northwestern UP, 2018)
  • Co-editor with Diana Taylor, Stages of Conflict: A Critical Anthology of Latin American Theater and Performance (U of Michigan P, 2008)
  • “Money Mazes, Media Machines, and Banana Republic Realisms.” American Literary History 31.4 (Winter 2019): 687-714.
  • “The Flight of the Bat: Theatrical (Re)production and the Unevenness of Modernism’s World Stage.” Modernism/Modernity Print+ Cluster titled ‘Modernism on the World Stage’ (October 15, 2019):
  • “The Siren’s Song; or, When an Amazonian Iara Sang Opera (in Italian) on a Belle Époque Stage.” Latin American Theatre Review 52.2 (Spring 2019): 149-167
  • “The Spectral Stage of Édouard Glissant’s Monsieur Toussaint.” Modern Drama 61.4 (Winter 2018): 501-525
  • “Oswald de Andrade’s Os condenados and the Decay of the Amazonian Aura.” Journal of Lusophone Studies 3.2 (Fall 2018): 104-124
  • “His Master’s Voice? A Hemispheric History of Phonographic Fictions.” Revista Hispánica Moderna 70.2 (December 2017): 197-216
  • "Radio/Puppets, or the Institutionalization of a Media Revolution and the Afterlife of a Mexican Avant-Garde." Cultural Critique 91 (Fall 2015, Special issue on Comparative Radios).
  • "Modernism's Unfinished Stage: Theater in Latin America." In The Modernist World, ed. Stephen Ross and Allana Lindgren (Routledge, 2015).
  • "De sobremesa, 'crónicas revestidas de galas' y el escenario ausente del modernismo hispanomericano," Revista iberoamericana 232-233 (julio-diciembre 2010).
  • "Total Theater and the Missing Pieces of the Brazilian Avant-Garde." Modernism/Modernity 16, no. 2 (April 2009).

Recent Courses:

  • Amazonia: Culture and Extractivism (graduate)
  • Culture, Capital, and the Global Jungle (graduate)
  • Brazil and Comparative Modernisms (graduate)
  • Latin American Modernisms and (Old) New Media (graduate)
  • Race, Performance, and Possession in the Americas (graduate)
  • Through the Looking-Glass: Race in the U.S. and Brazil (undergrad seminar in Portuguese)
  • Luso-Brazilian Theater Workshop (in Portuguese)
  • The International Amazon (undergrad seminar in Portuguese)
  • Culture and Social Struggle in the Amazon (undergrad seminar in Spanish)
  • Avant-Garde Primitivisms (undergrad seminar in Spanish)
  • Mexi-Cali Noir (undergrad seminar in Spanish)
  • Portuguese for Romance Language Speakers
Sarah J. Townsend