Creative Research Medal 2017
Elizabeth Wright, professor of Spanish in the Department of Romance Languages, is recognized for a seven-year project in which she recovered the story of Europe’s first known poet from the black slave diaspora, Juan Latino. This poet and educator, born in slavery circa 1517, is a Renaissance precursor to African-American social reformer Frederick Douglass. Anticipating the American abolitionist three centuries later, Latino secured education, freedom and literary recognition in Spain. Until Wright’s efforts, Latino was little known, due to the difficulty of his literary works written in Latin verse and the scarce documentary evidence of his life. Marshaling skills in literary translation of both Latin and Spanish, as well as archival detective work, Wright undertook two interconnected research projects that together have recovered Latino’s literary legacy and pieced together his life story. Wright’s creative, scholarly work draws our attention to the interwoven threads of history and literature, while also illuminating hidden cultural links.