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José Luiz Passos to depart from Center for Brazilian Studies

The novelist and literary scholar has contributed greatly to the center and to Brazilian studies more broadly at UCLA.

José Luiz Passos to depart from Center for Brazilian Studies

UCLA Professor José Luiz Passos. (Photo: Raquel M. Barreto.)

By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

UCLA International Institute, May 19, 2021 — José Luiz Passos, professor of Luso-Brazilian literatures and cultures at UCLA, will step down from his second term as director of the UCLA Center for Brazilian Studies at the end of June 2021. An award-winning novelist and respected literary scholar from Brazil who publishes primarily in Portuguese, he has played a significant role at the center and in Brazilian studies more broadly at UCLA.

In fact, the Center for Brazilian Studies (CBS) recently won the Focus Brazil Foundation’s “Focus Brazil 2020 Award” for its promotion of Brazilian culture and the Portuguese language on the West Coast. “Having our center’s work recognized by Focus Brazil, which is based in Florida, signals that our public programs reach a wide audience on the West Coast,” comments Passos.

Since the 1950s, Brazil has been the focus of substantial scholarly research at UCLA, which has steadily built an excellent library collection of Brazilian materials. Scholars from the humanities and social sciences to the life sciences, medicine and management are engaged in research on Brazil — many of whom pursue collaborative projects with Brazilian institutions.

UCLA also regularly attracts scores of Brazilian students, both independently and through Brazilian government- and private foundation-sponsored fellowship programs, several of which have been administered by CBS.

Passos actually earned his Ph.D. in Brazilian literature at UCLA in 1998. After teaching at UC Berkeley from 1998 through 2007, he joined the UCLA faculty in 2008. Upon his return, he became the inaugural director of CBS from 2008 to 2011, when it transitioned from a program to an official center of the Latin American Institute.

During his first term, he helped Professor Randal Johnson secure and disburse funding for the Jorge Paulo Lemann Scholarship and Fellowship Program at UCLA (which ran from 2010–11 through 2018–19), forged relationships with UCLA’s South Campus and recruited Dr. Karin Nielsen to succeed him. He became CBS director again upon her departure in 2018.

Over the past 20 plus years, the writer-scholar has published four novels, a novella, numerous short stories, as well as three works of literary criticism on Brazilian authors Mário de Andrade and Machado de Assis and numerous journal articles and book chapters. (See articles on his work here and here.)

“I love the Center for Brazilian Studies and will definitely remain engaged with it and with the International Institute’s Latin American Studies M.A. Program, which is a wonderful program,” says Passos. “But I am really looking forward to devoting more time to my own writing.”

His sights are now set on finishing his latest novel, about a young Brazilian woman writing a biography of her mother, as well as two scholarly studies: one on visiting rituals in Brazil and another on Afro Brazilian writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Passos’ second tenure as CBS director kept the center a central hub for discussions and exchanges about Brazil among scholars and students at UCLA, while expanding the literary and cultural content of its public programs. The center organized or cosponsored roughly 30 public events a year for the past three years with at least eight different academic departments and units across campus.

With support from the Brazilian Consulate in Los Angeles, with which he worked closely, Passos created the UCLA Colloquium on Brazil in 2018 to highlight the latest multidisciplinary research on the country. The series featured lectures by former and current UCLA graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and guest speakers, with a particular focus on Portuguese and Brazilian women writers and translators, and Afro-Brazilian issues.

“Our events have showcased current research on Brazil, highlighting issues of academic accountability and public interest. CBS programming has paid special attention to issues of diversity and minority rights, as well as health policy, the environment and political authoritarianism in Brazil,” says Passos.

In addition to the Brazilian Portuguese Lectureship program, the Colloquium on Brazil was the most recent collaboration between CBS, the local Brazilian consulate, the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the UCLA Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Past collaborative programs have sponsored visiting Brazilians scholars, writers and filmmakers in residence on campus and a long-running Brazilian film series (2007–2020).

Although consulate funding for the film series ended in 2020, Passos kept the series going during the 2020–21 academic year with CBS funding, continuing to screen recent Brazilian films followed by online discussions with directors, actors and producers.

In addition to sustaining an active public events program, Passos also created a research fellow position at CBS during his second term as director. The position gives recent UCLA doctoral graduates administrative experience in organizing and moderating public events while positioning them for the job market. The first graduate to serve in the position, Kristal Bivona (UCLA Ph.D. 2019), has since been hired at San Diego State University as a lecturer and assistant director of its Behner Stiefel Center for Brazilian Studies.

Once spring quarter ends and he relinquishes his post, the busy professor’s first priority is rest, followed by writing. The past year of remote teaching and supervising children engaged in remote learning at home has been challenging for Passos, who also directs the graduate and undergraduate Portuguese Program in the UCLA Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

Add the difficulties of supporting family members in Brazil, a country that — together with India and the U.S. — has had one of the highest Covid-19 death rates in the world, and you begin to get an idea of the stresses the coronavirus pandemic has held for him, as it has for so many UCLA professors.

The UCLA International Institute thanks Professor Passos for his unflagging service and contributions to the Center for Brazilian Studies and wishes him a well-deserved break. He will be greatly missed.