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Marina Llorente.
Marina Llorente. / Tara Freeman / St Lawrence University

A teacher from Marbella, now a US university associate dean

  • After moving to the USA over 30 years ago, Marina Llorente is now considered one of the country's top experts on Spanish poetry

It takes time to read her CV. At present, it is 14 pages long and there are still more to be completed. Today, she is considered one of the principal experts on Spanish poetry in the USA. Her professionalism, expertise and effort have earned her recognition in a country where, although effort is rewarded, it is not easy to make a name for oneself, especially for a foreigner.

Marina Llorente decided to focus her studies and her professional career on the other side of the Atlantic three decades ago. She moved there in 1986, when she decided to apply for a place as a Spanish teacher at the State Education Department in California. She arrived on American soil on 12 October that year, a symbolic date for the conquest of a new personal and professional life, and her success was not long in coming. A few months ago, her colleages at St Lawrence University in New York supported her nomination as Associate Dean of the Center for International and Intercultural Studies.

"It is a great honour to have been chosen from so many excellent candidates for this work, which is so crucial for the intellectual development of American students, because the experience of studying for six months or a year at a foreign university offers students the chance to integrate in a different culture at all levels, and acquire intercultural knowledge," she explains, proudly.

She knew at a young age that she wanted to be a teacher and, specificially, to teach Spanish literature. She has always loved poetry, something that was in evidence during her first classes with her teacher, Miss Conchita, at the Río Verde school. This love continued when she disembarked in the United States at the age of 26 and also while working as a teacher at schools in Oakland and during four years at Honolulu university in Hawaii, where she carried out research which made her the greatest expert on Spanish poetry in the USA.

Under professor Andrew Debicki, Marina Llorente studied for her doctorate in the speciality of contemporary Spanish poetry. With her doctoral thesis, 'From marginality to liminality: Transgressive Spaces in Spanish poetry 1975-1990' under her arm, she began working at St Lawrence university in 1997 as assistant professor. She is still there, but now she is an Associate Dean.

Opportunities

"I have always missed my family and the Spanish culture, but I must stress that I was made very welcome here, right from the start, especially when I became part of the American university teaching sector. I took advantage of each and every opportunity that came my way," she says, looking back over the past 30 years.

Between the publication of her first book 'Word and Desire: Transgressive Spaces in the Poetry of Spain 1975-1990' by the University of Malaga to the bilingual anthology of social poetry 'Activism Through Poetry: Critical Poems in Translation from Spain', which is to be published this month, she has given hundreds of talks on literary criticism at national and international conferences, written articles in academic magazines, coordinated poetry recitals, published several books, and been awarded the chair of Spanish literature in 2013 at the university at which she works.

She likes to visit Spain whenever her work permits it. Her husband John, who loves Spain and speaks the language fluently, encourages her. However, she says the visits do not alleviate a feeling of sadness, of no longer forming part of a place to which one belongs.

"The distance from your own culture provides an objectivity which is impossible to achieve from inside but, at the same time, you lose the day to day aspect, the vital experience in itself, and that is what hurts most. I can see, observe, understand many things from abroad that I could not from within, but I can't experience them from here," she says.

Would she come back to Spain? Maybe, when she has retired. For the moment, no, even though she misses the Mediterranean, the celebrations, the food, the wine and "not being with my parents as they get older and my nieces and nephews as they grow up".

"Teodoro Adorno used to say that without memory there is no justice. So the study of how poetry tries to reveal those buried and/or silenced memories is one of the most important aspects of my research," she explains.

In her personal life she cherishes other memories, those of her place of origin, despite her successes. "Our situation, that of immigrants, is always difficult because you are between two cultures. Being welcomed with respect, receiving help to settle in, the way I was, is what I wish for everyone who migrates from Spain," she says.