Spanish Professor Keeps Busy Writing, Lecturing while on Study Leave

Posted: January 17, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

Rei Berroa
Rei Berroa
Photo courtesy of Rei Berroa

Rei Berroa is one of those professors who may be just as busy on leave as when he is teaching.

While on paid study leave this academic year, Berroa, associate professor of Spanish and a widely-published poet, wakes up at about 5 a.m. each day and writes for about two hours. He then helps his wife, Ana, get their six-year-old daughter, Olivia, ready for school in Fairfax City.

Berroa usually walks Olivia to school, then returns home and works from about 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. He takes a break for lunch and does some work around the house.

The Dominican Republic native then returns to his writing and research about 2:30 p.m. and works for a few hours until his daughter gets home from school. He then spends time with his family – his wife teaches Spanish at Northern Virginia Community College – and works about two or three more hours before going to bed at 11 p.m.

“You have a tendency to say ‘yes’ to every invitation” while on leave, says Berroa, who has been at Mason for 22 years. “But your primary responsibility is to write. The whole idea (for leave) is that you finish that work.”

“That work” for Berroa is “Lorca in New York,” a book about the nine months that Spanish poet Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) spent in New York City from 1929 to 1930.

“Langston Hughes, Robert Bly, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Galway Kinnell, Mark Strand – all of them have been influenced by Lorca,” says Berroa. Lorca was killed by Nationalist soldiers at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

Despite a strict writing schedule, Berroa has been able to say yes to some high-profile events. In September, he was invited by the secretary of cultural affairs in the Dominican Republic to deliver three master lectures. A few weeks later, at James Madison University, he presented a paper, “Ideology and Rhetoric in the Dominican poetry of 1965,” the year the United States invaded the island.

In late November, Berroa was one of two U.S. poets invited to the First Iberian-American Poetry Festival of Mexico City. The 35 poets who took part were declared honorary citizens of Mexico by the city’s legislative assembly. Some of the other poets honored included Ledo Ivo (Brazil), Arturo Corcuera (Perú), Pablo Armando Fernández (Cuba), Roberto Sosa (Honduras) and Raúl Zurita (Chile).

“This is a great honor for Mason, also,” says Berroa. “These are some of the great voices of Latin American poetry in the world. To be selected for this festival, among poets that have given a lot of food for thought for so many people around the Americas, is a great honor.”

In addition, Berroa has been asked to read from some of his work at the prestigious Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville March 21-25. He’s chosen to read from “Book of Fragments.” He will also give a lecture at the University of Virginia and plans to discuss the influence of American poet Walt Whitman in Latin America.

“Whitman is probably the most influential (American) poet in Latin America. We see him as a voice of democracy who was open to new thinking,” says Berroa.

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