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Inaugural Scholarly Speaker Series

By Deanna Venezio

On November 20, 2020, we welcomed Dr. Migalí Armillas-Tiseyra, an Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Penn State University, for her lecture, The Dictator Novel: Writers and Politics in the Global South and discussion as the inaugural Scholarly Speaker Series event. The English department’s Graduate Director, Dr. Mary Kate Azcuy, described the newly developed Scholarly Speaker Series’ relevance and importance for Monmouth University: “We started this Series to introduce students to scholars who are working in critical new fields of inquiry and discovery in which we engage our graduate programs—in literature, rhetoric and writing, and creative writing—and interdisciplinary conversations with gender, intersectionality, and global issues; thus, our collaboration with PGIS and IGU. These scholars introduce their current work via a short lecture and then discuss their research, writing process, and scholarly endeavors via a question-and-answer period with the audience.”

Dr. Armillas-Tiseyra’s Zoom presentation delivered astute discourse for our students. Her lecture included the opening pages of The Dictator Novel,’ where she discusses the importance of the dictator being a “fictional character removed from historical references”:

To read the dictator novel solely for its attack on the dictator obscures its examination of the systems within which dictatorship takes shape. Such readings risk overlooking the complex ways in which novels about dictatorship also intervene in larger debates, whether on the internal difficulties of national consolidation, the role of external and global force in sustaining dictatorship, or even the political function of writing itself. (Armillas-Tiseyra 4)

Not only does she suggest a more open mind when understanding African and Latin American literature, with a focus on the “intersection of large-scale comparative frameworks and political system,” but she applies theoretical discussions and debates regarding the systems.

She taught us that the dictator as a character is often absent in a majority of a novel’s content and focuses on the narrative and how characters work their way through these environments through “socially charged” rhetoric. We come to learn how these dictatorships came to fruition in the first place. With that being said, she has a compelling ability to tell crucial stories with grace and conviction.

“We don’t really see the dictator novel being written in America, but Magali’s work is so important because it highlights the parallels we do have in our political system. It’s as relevant as ever. Her work also reminds us of what great art and literature are supposed to do.” — Assistant Professor Alex Gilvarry, Director, MFA in Creative Writing

Additional dictator novels recommended by Dr. Armillas-Tiseyra:

  • Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
  • The General in His Labyrinth by Tomás Eloy Martínez
  • Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa The General in His Labyrinth by Tomás Eloy Martínez Wizard of Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o