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Sarah J. Townsend

Assistant Professor of Spanish and Portuguese

Office Phone: (814) 865-4252


  1. New York University (PhD)
  2. University of Iowa (BA)


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, capital, and politics 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. I am the co-editor (with Diana Taylor) of Stages of Conflict: A Critical Anthology of Latin American Theater and Performance, and my other publications include articles in journals such as Cultural Critique, Modernism/Modernity, Revista Hispánica Moderna, Journal of Lusophone Studies, and Modern Drama, as well as an essay in the collection The Modernist World. 

My book The Unfinished Art of Theater: Avant-Garde Intellectuals in Mexico and Brazil was published by Northwestern UP in July 2018. For the last three summers I have been conducting research in Manaus, Brazil - an international Free Trade Zone - 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. Among my articles forthcoming or in progress are one on Édouard Glissant's play about the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L'Ouverture; another on a Brazilian opera about the Amazonian "iara" (a siren-like figure) adapted from a poem by an Italian ethnographer; and an essay on culture in the city of Manaus from 1870 to 1930 for a volume of Cambridge UP's forthcoming series Transitions in Latin American Literature. 

At Penn State, I coordinate the Hemispheric Americas lecture series in collaboration with my colleagues Judith Sierra Rivera and Krista Brune. My teaching includes graduate and undergraduate courses conducted in Portuguese, Spanish, and English. 

Graduate seminars:

  • Brazil and Comparative Modernisms (x-listed with Comparative Literature)
  • Culture, Capital, and the Global Jungle
  • Missing Pieces: Latin American Theater and Performance
  • Latin American Modernisms and (Old) New Media
  • Race, Performance, and Possession in the Americas (x-listed with Comparative Literature)


Undergraduate Courses:

  • Avant-garde Primitivisms
  • Through the Looking Glass: Race in the United States and Brazil
  • The International Amazon 
  • Portuguese for Romance Language Speakers
  • Mexi/Cali Noir
  • Media and the Mexican Revolution
  • Luso-Brazilian Theater Workshop