SEA Junior Scholar of the Month, May 2023: Miguel Valerio
How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
I did not have the opportunity to take classes in colonial Latin American literature and culture before my PhD program. I was fascinated by the content of these courses, which seem to call to me. Up to then I had been interested in Modernism. One semester, fall 2023, the person that ended up becoming my dissertation adviser, Dr. Lisa Voigt, was conducting a graduate seminar on colonial cities and festivals. One of the readings for that class mentioned a procession of “more than fifty” “black men and women on horseback with their king and queen.” This line piqued my curiosity and became my dissertation topic and the subject of my first book: Sovereign Joy: Afro-Mexicans Kings and Queens, 1539-1640, which studies this widespread Atlantic tradition in Mexico for the first time.
Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
A lot of the texts I work with are not canonical. A favorite from Sovereign Joy is Festín hecho por las morenas criollas de la muy noble, y muy leal Ciudad de México al recibimiento, y entrada del Excellentísimo Señor Marqués de Villena, Duque de Escalona, Virrey de esta Nueva España (“Dance performed by the creole Black women of the most noble and most loyal city of Mexico for the reception and entry of His Excellency the Marquis of Villena, Duke of Escalona, Viceroy of New Spain”), which was published in Mexico City in 1640. Festín is the only colonial Latin American text dedicated in its entirety to a Black festive performance: the dance a group of twelve creole Black women performed for the incoming viceroy in 1640. I discuss Festín in Chapter 4 of Sovereign Joy, and my translation will appear soon on a collection of texts about Afro-Mexico.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a book about the artistic, architectural, and ritualistic practices of Afro-Brazilian catholic brotherhoods. Architects of Their Worlds: The Artistic and Ritualistic Spaces of Afro-Brazilian Brotherhoods focuses on the staggering number of more than twenty-five churches and stand-alone chapels Afro-Brazilian irmandades built in colonial Brazil as the physical site and seat of their social, economic, political and cultural sovereignty. While Black confraternities in early modern Portugal, Spain, and Spanish America owned altars or side chapels, the only one to own its own church outside Brazil is the brotherhood of Our Lady of the Angels in Seville, known as “Los Negritos.” Owning the group’s church and its environs was an important reality that gave the brotherhood relative autonomy over its appearance, decoration, priest, and what happened within and around the church. Architects of Their World will show how these sacred spaces allowed Afro-Brazilian irmandades to express their devotion and Afro-Catholic identity in unique ways. The book also analyzes two festivals that Afro-Brazilian irmandades staged as a powerfully symbolic expression of their socio-economic and political sovereignty.
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
I am reading a lot of books right now; our field is thriving. A great book is Jeroen Dewulf’s Afro-Atlantic Christians, which looks at the first Black Catholics in what would become the US. Another is Cécile Fromont’s Images on a Mission, about hitherto unknown images of Italian missionaries in the Congo. Both of these works interest me immensely because they intersect with my own research and employ exemplary approaches to early modern texts and images.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
Many scholars in early modern studies inspired me. Cécile Fromont is a great scholar doing fantastic work on Catholicism in the Congo. In her work, she offers innovative lenses through which to look at early modern material Black culture. She has also been a generous mentor from the early days of my career.
Miguel Valerio is Assistant Professor of Spanish at Washington University in St. Louis.