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Sarah J. Townsend

Associate 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 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.

My book The Unfinished Art of Theater: Avant-Garde Intellectuals in Mexico and Brazil was published by Northwestern UP in July 2018. The Unfinished Art of Theater recently received an Honorable Mention for the Best Book in the Humanities Prize (2018) awarded by the Mexico Section of the Latin American Studies Association. My other publications include Stages of Conflict: A Critical Anthology of Latin American Theater and Performance (co-edited with Diana Taylor) and articles in journals such as Cultural Critique, Modernism/Modernity, American Literary History, Revista Hispánica Moderna, Journal of Lusophone Studies, and Latin American Theatre Review, as well as an essay in the collection The Modernist World.  "The Spectral Stage of Édouard Glissant's Monsieur Toussaint," my 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? Among my forthcoming articles is one on a Brazilian opera about the Amazonian "iara" (a siren-like figure) adapted from a poem by an Italian ethnographer, and another about media, money, and realism in a novel by O. Henry that is commonly cited as the original source of the term “banana republic.” Currently I am 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.

At Penn State, I coordinate the Hemispheric Americas lecture series. My teaching includes graduate and undergraduate courses conducted in Portuguese, Spanish, and English, and I enjoy working with doctoral students in both Spanish and Comparative Literature on a wide range of projects grounded in Latin America or the Americas, as well as students with interests in theater or performance in other parts of the world. 


Graduate seminars:

  • Brazil and Comparative Modernisms (x-listed with Comparative Literature)
  • Culture, Capital, and the Global Jungle
  • History, Time, and the Contemporary Latin American Stage
  • 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

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)
Articles and Essays:

“Money Mazes, Media Machines, and Banana Republic Realisms” (Forthcoming in American Literary History)

“The Siren’s Song; or, When an Amazonian Iara Sang Opera (in Italian) on a Belle Époque Stage” (Forthcoming in a special issue of Latin American Theatre Review on Brazil in Spring 2019)

 “The Flight of the Bat: Theatrical (Re)production and the Unevenness of Modernism’s World Stage” (Forthcoming in a Print-Plus cluster of the journal Modernism/Modernity titled ‘Modernism on the World Stage’) 

“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 

“Modernism’s Unfinished Stage: Theatre in Latin America.” In The Modernist World. Ed. Stephen Ross and Allana Lindgren. New York: Routledge, 2015. pp. 417-425

“Radio / Puppets, or the Institutionalization of a (Media) Revolution and the Afterlife of a Mexican Avant-Garde.” Cultural Critique 91 (Fall 2015): 32-71

De sobremesa, crónicas ‘revestidas de galas’ y el escenario ausente del modernismohispanoamericano.” Revista iberoamericana 232–33 (July–December 2010): 939-956

“Total Theater and the Missing Pieces of the Brazilian Avant-Garde.” Modernism/Modernity 16.2 (April 2009): 329-355

 “Black Indians and Savage Christians: Unmaking the ‘Other’ in the Performance of Conquest.” e-misférica 2.1 (April2005):


Sarah J. Townsend