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Educational Journey Begins with Lessons Learned in Childhood

Two very special women helped fuel Alfredo J. Sosa-Velasco's love for Romance Languages and Literatures.

Date: 2/10/2008
By: Britt Kennerly
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Photos By: Melanie Cannon
Alfredo J. Sosa-Velasco grew up as an only child, but he never lacked companionship, conversation or inspiration.

And as a new assistant professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, he brings to the classroom the joy of the myriad lessons gleaned from a giving and diverse group of family, friends and mentors.

Sosa-Velasco, who arrived at UC in September 2007, was born in Caracas, D.F., Venezuela, to Mary Carmen, a natural of Spain, and Alfredo, a native of Venezuela.

Alfredo J. Sosa-Velasco, assistant professor of Romance Languages & Literatures


"I grew up in a very multicultural and talkative home, where silence never existed. My grandmother, Conchita, from Cuba, had a great influence on what I have devoted myself to professionally today," he says. "I owe to her the gift of reading and to my mom the gift of writing. Thanks to my grandma I became a voracious reader of anything I got my hands on when I was a kid."

The two women, he recalls, "motivated me to study, read, and write. Thanks to them, I started reading everything: short stories, comics, newspapers, novels. Both my middle and high school teachers of history and literature had a huge influence on me as well. History and literature were my favorite subjects of all."

That made deciding on a major a breeze: "I picked up history, because I wanted to learn about Spanish and European history, while I could read literature for pleasure," he notes.

After moving to Spain with his mother, Sosa-Velasco began undergraduate studies in history at the Universidad de Salamanca in 1994. An Erasmus/Socrates grant took him to the University of Edinburgh from 1996 to 1997. An "incredible year" later, he headed back to Spain to finish a BA in history at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.

A trip to the United States as an exchange student turned into a two-year stay at the University of Florida, where Sosa-Velasco earned his MA in Spanish. His stay in Florida afforded him the "great pleasure of working with Professor Geraldine Nichols, who introduced me to the incredible world of Catalan literature and culture – a topic which has continued to interest me every day since then." That interest, in turn, took Sosa-Velasco to Cornell University for his PhD studies, where he had the "incredible opportunity" to work closely with internationally regarded Catalanist Joan Ramon Resina. 

"Joan Ramon was a magnificent advisor, professor, and dissertation director, who not only fed my intellectual curiosity talking about my research while having coffee (even two days before Christmas Eve), but also became for me an academic model to follow and a friend," he recalls. "Nobody could have asked for a better mentor."

Sosa-Velasco is melding his many interests at UC, where he is "happily" teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in RLL and conducting research on 19th- and 20th-century Modern Peninsular Spanish Literature.

"Besides my interests in Iberian literatures and cultures, I am interested in Transatlantic and Mediterranean studies, especially Catalan studies," he says. "My interests are ample, ranging from the relationship between literature and medicine to aesthetics, history, and memory, and my areas of research include art, narrative, cultural studies, film studies and literary theory."

Outside the classroom, Sosa-Velasco enjoys, in no particular order, traveling, cooking, eating out, going to the theater, movies, opera, the beach, working out, swimming, camping, hanging out with friends, dancing, wine tasting, and playing with his cat, Rafael.

"Before moving to the Midwest, I had visited Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Chicago," he says. "I am still adjusting to Cincinnati, but I like it so far."

The reputation of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures helped steer the young educator to the Queen City. He was well familiar with the work of Donald W. Bleznick, an internationally well-known researcher on the Golden Age, and Patricia W. O'Connor – another Florida Gator – and a widely recognized scholar of contemporary Spanish theater and women's theater. In addition, Sosa-Velasco was excited about participating in the Cincinnati Conference on Romance Languages and Literatures, one of the oldest and most important graduate student conferences in the United States.

"It was very appealing for me to become part of a department with such a history and tradition in Romance studies," he says. "I have the pleasure to have writers such as Armando Romero, Nicasio Urbina and María Paz Moreno, as colleagues. I personally believe that the work that some of my colleagues are doing in the department is a valuable contribution to the field of Romance languages and literatures."

Sosa-Velasco is currently working on two book projects: one based on the role of physician writers as intellectuals (Spain Is Ill! The Politics of Illness in Twentieth-Century Spain: Physician Writers as Healers of the Nation), and another based on the representation of the Spanish Civil War in narrative and film (Remembering, Forgetting, and Memory in Spain: Representations of the Spanish Civil War in Novel and Film, 1936-2006). His potential audience could be scholars, critics, students or anyone interested in issues on literary and cultural products and their relationship to identity, nation, and politics, in general, but also in Hispanic studies, in particular.

"Both of my current research projects demonstrate that literary and cultural products require a consideration of the cultural dynamics created by language and politics," he says. "As a Peninsularista or Iberista in the true sense of the word, I think my work will contribute to the field of Hispanic studies, establishing bridges between traditional literary studies and cultural studies while promoting other national literatures and cultures of Spain, different from the Castilian one."

It's an exciting time for this RLL professor, considering that the interest for learning and speaking Spanish is growing every day for many people within very diverse contexts. 

The advantage of being a junior faculty when it comes to teaching, Sosa-Velasco says, is that graduate school is a relatively recent memory: "We know what it feels like to be a student, how we can get engaged and motivated in learning, and how we can take that from our experience as a student and apply it as a teacher."

"In my relationship with students, I am guided by the belief that the work we do in the classroom is inherently valuable, and it also serves as preparation for students to experience literature and culture outside strictly academic work," he concludes. "I do not teach them what to think, but how to think."

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