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Debra Castillo

Debra Castillo

Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow, Emerson Hinchliff Professor of Hispanic Studies, Cornell University

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Debra Castillo is Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow, Emerson Hinchliff Chair of Hispanic Studies, Professor of Comparative Literature, and director of the Cornell Migration Studies minor. She is past president of the international, interdisciplinary Latin American Studies Association.

She is the holder of a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellowship, which is Cornell University’s highest teaching award, and is granted for excellence in undergraduate teaching. She regularly teaches courses on Latinx, Border Studies, and Migration issues for both graduate and undergraduate students.

Debra Castillo is the author, co-author, translator, or editor of a couple of dozen books and approximately 150 scholarly articles. She specializes in contemporary narrative from the Spanish-speaking world (including the United States), gender studies, and cultural theory. Her most recent books include South of the Future: Speculative Biotechnologies and Care Markets in South Asia and Latin America (with Anindita Banerjee) and The Scholar as Human(with Anna Sims Bartel), Centering Borders: Narrative Explorations in South Asia and Latin America (with Kavita Panjabi and Debaroti Chakraborty), Latin American Literature in Transition (with Mónica Szurmuk) and forthcoming books with Liliana Colanzi (on horror in Latin America) and with Melissa Castillo-Planas (on public engagement in COVID times).

She is an active member of the editorial boards of many journals, and is also Editor of the Latin American Literary Reviewpast editor of Diacritics, and the former Book Review editor for Letras Femeninas.  She is past president of the the Latin American Studies Association and of the Asociación Internacional de Literatura y Cultura Femenina Hispánica (now the Asociación de Estudios de Género y Sexualidades), serves or has recently served on the boards of the Cornell University Press (where she co-edits a series on Publicly Engaged Scholars), the North Carolina Series in Romance Languages and Literatures, and the State University of New York Press (where she co-edits a series on Genders in the Global South). 

She is deeply involved with community engagement projects and courses, especially in collaboration with the local organizations, Cultura Ithaca  and No más lágrimas and has regularly taught a profoundly engaged course, “Cultures and Communities” in collaboration with these and other partners in the Ithaca community. The mission of all this work is to share Latin American and U.S. Latino/a/x culture with community members of all ages through educational artistic activities. Internationally, her engagement work includes collaboration with partners in several Latin American countries, especially Mexico, as in the recent example of the multimedia, interdisciplinary performance installation and collaborative research project on our relationship to water, Aguakinesis.

One of the courses with which she has been most identified over the years is “Hispanic Theater Production,” which, under the troupe name “Teatrotaller,”has regularly produced high quality theatre since 1993.  Graduate and undergraduate students, as well as core community members participate. The group focuses on theatre from the Spanish, Latin American, or US Latino/a/x traditions  or—increasingly—develops original plays through a collective creation process.   We then bring the plays to full production (generally presented in August/September, November, and April). The group has achieved an international reputation for excellence, and has accepted invitations to present their plays in various regional universities (Tufts, Penn State, Barnard, Syracuse, Texas-El Paso, Kansas State) in festivals in Mexico, Canada, Israel, Ecuador, Romania, and Belgium, and has toured in the USA, Mexico, and India.  COVID forced us to defer our 2020-2021 projects.  However, we were able to reboot our popular Christmas “Pastorela”in December 2021, and are now touring our the original play, "Diamantina rosa", by Ana Florencia López Ulloa. We are also  developing new plays for live performance in 2022-23.

Debra is profoundly committed to mentoring at all levels, and is amply compensated through sustained dialogue with exciting young scholars. She has enjoyed the privilege of working closely with over one hundred graduate students (mostly PhD), and has been the chair or co-chair of a little over sixty graduate student committees.  While not everyone has chosen an academic career, most of her former students have ended up teaching and doing research in some combination.  Some of them are located in far-flung sites like Kolkata, Seoul, or Buenos Aires; most are in Spanish programs in the United States, including people at liberal arts colleges, state universities, and distinguished private research institutions.