NYU Department of Spanish and Portuguese: A Cultural Node Driven by Excellence

Hispanic Community September 2023 PREMIUM
Committed to excellence, NYU’s department of Spanish and Portuguese has developed a robust language program in its almost 200 years of existence, through an inter-American and trans-Atlantic approach, diverse curriculum and faculty, and several study abroad sites.

Since its creation in 1831, New York University has been committed to the development of a robust language program and curriculum, to the growth of its international and diasporic student body, to increased participation in the cultural, historical and political life of New York City, and to equity, diversity and inclusion for its faculty and students. This is especially true for the undergraduate and graduate divisions of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, with its three sites abroad (Madrid, Buenos Aires, and Recife), its recently revised undergraduate curriculum, its collaboration with the KJCC and the Hemispheric Institute, and the diversity of its 45+ faculty members.

As the department’s website states:

The hallmark of our department is its trans-Atlantic and inter-American focus. We bridge traditional divides between Spain and Spanish America; between North and South America; between Portugal, Brazil and Africa; and between Spanish America and Brazil, in order to rethink historical, literary and linguistic boundaries from new perspectives. Thus our endeavor is essentially comparatist in nature, as it must be in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.

At the undergraduate level, the department offers four majors (Spanish and Portuguese, Latin American Studies, Romance Languages and Literatures, and Spanish and Linguistics) and four minors (Spanish, Portuguese, Latin American Studies and Creative Writing). Our undergraduate courses are small and give students the opportunity to engage with one another and with award winning scholars, writers, and teaching professionals. Students can choose to focus on language (with courses on advanced language or linguistics, creative writing and translation) or on literature, culture, politics and human rights. Several courses in our curriculum are particularly important for our focus on the people of North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean, and their diasporic communities.

The language division has developed courses explicitly directed to the US Latinx and Hispanic population that uses Spanish daily but has never studied it formally (among them Advanced Spanish for Spanish Speaking Students, taught by award winning author Enrique del Risco). In Iberian Atlantic, Jill Lane focuses on the dynamic period of expansion of the Iberian monarchies in the Early Modern Atlantic World.  This course discusses how the Castilian, Portuguese, Mediterranean, West African, Mesoamerican and Andean peoples, among others, became —through coercion, free will, or accident —protagonists in a dramatic history that imposed and contested imperial rule, and built societies based on radical diversity and marked by acute contradictions and conflicts. Poet, writer and scholar Urayoán Noel currently teaches Key Works, a required course for Spanish and Portuguese majors dedicated to the exploration of works from the Iberian, Latin American and Luso-Brazilian world(s) produced in or connected to New York City. These works span a range of literary and cultural contexts and traditions.

In addition, we offer a wide range of undergraduate courses that feature the Hispanic and Latinx experience. For a complete list, please visit

Our undergraduate curriculum thrives upon its engagement with writing professionals within and beyond university walls. In the creative writing minor, students learn from published authors as they produce their own creative work. In the translation courses, students often publish their translations, carried out under the leadership of professor María José Zubieta (The Man Who Gazed at the Sky—Jizo Ediciones—, Every Body Is Totem—Artepoética Press 2019— and A Woman Walked Walked and Walked—Artepoética Press 2021). 

From its very beginning, the journal Esferas ( has been dedicated not only to undergraduate publications but also to the articulation of knowledge among undergraduate and graduate students, professors, writers and researchers from Washington Square, the two global sites with which we are most connected - Madrid and Buenos Aires - and relevant artists and critics from around the world. As a class, Esferas equips students with superb experiential learning and academic  rigor as they engage in the arts and intellectual production within and beyond the university. Now in its 14th issue, Esferas continues to attract students and scholars to its fold. In 2023, the journal marks its 10th anniversary through a collaboration with the NYU Humanities Lab Cross/Currents and with faculty from our department who have continued to work on the project, Laura Torres-Rodríguez and Jordana Mendelson. Under the leadership of Lourdes Dávila, the Esferas editorial committee secured  work from Trinidadian photographer Nadia Huggins, Peruvian choreographer Oscar Naters, Puerto Rican writer Eduardo Lalo, and Mexican Mario Bellatin. Many others have contributed their work, including undergraduates and critics who worked for the Humanities Lab. The journal can be purchased in print or read online, and receives submissions from students across the nation as well as from international creators and critics.

We complete our undergraduate curriculum with an internship program (a 2-4 credit course)  designed in 2009 to give students valuable work experience while engaging fully and ethically in the Hispanic and Latinx communities, providing invaluable service to the different diaspora communities in NYC. It offers a wide range of possibilities for our students, from translation and interpretation with local organizations centered around community service (including medical settings) to dual language/dual immersion teaching. Internship activities also encompass such activities as journal writing, theater and film production, pre-law internships, and assisting asylum seekers who are in the process of filing their asylum applications, by translating documents and other materials into English. Our department is particularly committed to focusing on translation and migration issues as distinctive features. Like Esferas, the internship program seeks to establish a connection between academic research and real work experiences in NYC.

We continue to develop our curricular offerings for undergraduates and have made it our mission to establish as many entry points to our majors and minors as possible, no matter their  language level. In this way, students are able to optimize their learning in our department, as they experience in their own lives the advantages of being bilingual and bicultural in the 21st century. 

Of course, our Department is well known for its MFA program in creative writing in Spanish, founded by writer and scholar Sylvia Molloy and serving as a node for the literary and cultural production of Hispanic, Latinx and Latin American artists and writers. In addition to its co-founders (Argentine poet Lila Zemborain and Peruvian poet Mariela Dreyfus), its faculty has included distinguished global professor Rita Indiana (who is currently serving as acting director of the program), distinguished global professor Diamela Eltit, Sergio Chejfec, Lina Meruane and many others. Every year the MFA publishes Temporales (, a magazine which has become a reference point for New York-based literary and artistic activities, and aims to connect with various literary production centers through  the publication of texts by Spanish and Hispano-American writers. 

The PhD program consistently ranks among the best in the country, not only for its outstanding faculty and interdisciplinary focus but also for its ability to place students in excellent academic positions throughout the US. Just this year, the PhD program placed its graduate students with faculty positions at Brown, Emerson and Harvard. Scholar, writer and NYU PhD graduate Claudia Salazar was awarded  the “Premio de las Américas” in 2014 for the best novel written in Spanish (Blood of the Dawn). And this year’s Pulitzer’s award winner, Hernán Díaz (Trust), is a graduate from NYU’s PhD program. The PhD program continues to grow and thrive. This year, we are happy to welcome scholars and artistic creators Denise Ferreira da Silva from Brazil and Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida from Portugal, who will be joining our faculty. 

Driven by its commitment to excellence in scholarship and pedagogy, as well as its integrity and commitment to the NYC community, the department of Spanish and Portuguese continues to evolve. It welcomes both the tradition and change inherent in the Hispanic and Latinx community as it moves forward in the 21st century. 

About the author:

Lourdes Dávila is from San Juan, Puerto Rico. A professional dancer for 25 years, her academic writing focuses on the intersection of photography, dance/movement and writing in Latin America. She has published on Julio Cortázar, Mario Bellatin, Diamela Eltit, Eduardo Lalo, José Luis González, Martha Graham and Marie Bardet. She is the founder and managing director of the journal Esferas, which provides a shared space for the production of art and knowledge for artists, critics, undergraduates and graduate students. Fully dedicated to the teaching and advisement of students, Lourdes has twice won the CAS Golden Dozen Teaching Award and received the NYU Distinguished Teaching Award in the spring of 2019.

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