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St. Olaf English professor uses Fulbright award for research in Brazil

English Brett DeFries is using a Fulbright Scholar fellowship to conduct research in Brazil.
English faculty member Brett DeFries is using a Fulbright Scholar fellowship to conduct research in Brazil.

St. Olaf College Visiting Assistant Professor of English Brett DeFries is using a Fulbright Scholar fellowship to conduct research in Brazil, where he is working to translate the poetry of Murilo Mendes, a Brazilian Modernist poet, and helping co-produce the first English edition of one of his works.

The Fulbright Core Scholar Award is the largest program of its kind in the United States, offering opportunities for academics and professionals to teach, conduct research, and complete other projects internationally. Applicants are selected based on their experience and their proposed projects, including the potential impacts and benefits of their work. 

DeFries spent July and August of 2022 in Curitiba, Brazil, and is returning to Brazil for two more months this summer. While there, he is collaborating with Lucas Lazzaretti, a Brazilian poet, novelist, and philosopher. The two met for the first time in 2018, when Lazzaretti came to St. Olaf as a visiting Kierkegaard Scholar, and they are now working together to translate Mendes’s work Timeless Poems: Selected Poetry of Murilo Mendes. 

Mendes (1901–75) was influential in the second wave of Brazilian modernism, living through two world wars and two dictatorships. His poems reflect the fear and anxiety around the devaluation of human life in a world struggling through endless war, work, and systemic inequality. However, his work is still relatively unknown to English speakers. 

“I became interested in Mendes’ polarizing work because it has a lot in common with poetry of 17th-century Britain, which is my primary area of research. His work is politically resonant, it is erotic, and it is deeply philosophical and even mystical. This project has been particularly meaningful for me, because as a poet and scholar, translation work has offered a perfect meeting point for my creative and critical impulses,” DeFries says.

In addition to the translation work he is doing as part of his Fulbright fellowship, DeFries spent time teaching a mini-course on British Renaissance poetry at his host institution, the Federal University of Paraná. The experience allowed him to exchange knowledge with the professors and graduate students in his class, all of whom were experienced in the genre but familiar with a different subset of poets. 

DeFries hopes that all of this is just the beginning of his work in Brazil. He would like to develop a study-abroad program to Brazil for St. Olaf students and pursue other translation projects.

“I hope that my Fulbright will create a foundation for future translation projects involving colonial and contemporary Brazilian literature,” he says. “In particular, I hope to translate my own co-translator, Lucas Lazzaretti, whose work in Portuguese I greatly admire.”