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Sarah J. Townsend

Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese

145 Burrowes
University Park , PA 16802
Office Phone: (814) 865-3023

Curriculum Vitae

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

Research Interests:

Theater and performance, old and new media, sound studies, avant-gardes and modernisms, race in the Americas, Marxist theory and histories of capitalism, Amazonia and natural resource extraction


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 I previously spent two years studying Yoruba, which continues to inform some of my teaching and research endeavors.

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 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 several years I have conducted 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 (among them newer works by both Latin American and European composers), and films and literary works in which the theater appears. In addition to intervening in debates about extractivism and the geopolitical role of the Amazon, it will challenge traditional cartographies of cultural creation and circulation by showing that opera is and has long been a ‘global’ genre. In 2021-2022 I will be in residence at the Newberry Library in Chicago working on this project as part of an American Council of Learned Societies Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship for Recently Tenured Scholars. Other projects include an essay on performance in nineteenth-century Latin America as both an object of intellectual inquiry and a mode of knowledge production and transmission in its own right.

In 2019-2020, I served as the faculty coordinator for Redesigning Modernities, a multi-year project led by the School of Global Languages and Literatures at Penn State that facilitates collaborative research and curriculum development devoted to the exploration of modernity - in all its unevenness -  across the globe. As a follow-up to this project, I am co-editing a special issue of the journal Comparative Literature StudiesI also coordinate the annual Hemispheric Americas lecture series, as well as events such as a recent teach-in on the fires in the Amazon and a lecture and workshop on "Black Narratives in Brazilian Comics" by the Brazilian graphic novelist Marcelo d'Salete. I am a current member of both the Executive Committee of the Drama and Performance Forum of the Modern Language Association and the Executive Council of the Amazonia Section of the Latin American Studies Association. 


My teaching includes graduate and undergraduate courses conducted in Portuguese, Spanish, and English, and I enjoy working with doctoral students on a wide range of projects grounded in Latin America and the Americas as a whole, as well as with students who have overlapping theoretical interests but concentrate on other parts of the world.

Graduate seminars:

  • Brazil and Comparative Modernisms (x-listed with Comparative Literature)
  • Amazonia and Extractivism
  • 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
  • Culture and Social Struggle in the Amazon 
  • Portuguese for Romance Language Speakers
  • Mexi/Cali Noir
  • 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:

  • “Manaus.” In Transitions in Latin American Literature, Vol. 3 (1870–1930). Ed. Fernando Degiovanni and Javier Uriarte. Cambridge UP (forthcoming).
  • “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.” Special issue of Latin American Theatre Review on Brazilian Theatre 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 
  • “Modernism’s Unfinished Stage: Theatre in Latin America.” In The Modernist World. Ed. Stephen Ross and Allana Lindgren. 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 modernismo hispanoamericano.” 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):