Spotlight: Jacqueline Loss

Dr. Jacqueline Loss, professor of Latin American Literary and Culture Students and the Director of Graduate Studies at LCL, is an internationally published researcher and educator. She is the author of two books, numerous articles and book chapters and is the coeditor of one collection of essays and another anthology of short stories. Her primary research interests include Cuban literature, history, and culture, and she has translated into English the works of many prominent Cuban writers and artists such as Víctor Fowler Calzada, Ernesto René Rodríguez, Jorge Miralles, Jorge Mañach, and Anna Lidia Vega Serova.


Born in Connecticut, Loss developed a love for literature in translation from Latin America at a very early age. While Spanish is not her native language, she gained a familiarity with it early through her extended family. Her great-aunt, originally from Austria, had emigrated to Mexico, and her maternal grandfather, also an Austrian refugee, spoke Spanish fluently, attending to his many Spanish-speaking patients as a doctor in Bridgeport, Connecticut. “From the moment I learned to read,” Loss confessed, “I poured over books and started using literature as a means to escape.” She went on to do her undergraduate studies in Hispanic and Continental European Literatures at Boston University, where, through the guidance of some wonderful mentors, professors of Spanish themselves, she started speculating about a career as a professor. She carried out her graduate studies in comparative literature at the University of Texas at Austin.


In her research, Loss threads a delicate balance between her work in cultural studies, theory, and as a translator. Rather than having theory imposed on translation or having translations being wholly disconnected from theory, she believes in finding a middle path where both act as organic foils to each other allowing for the exploration of interesting questions of identity, politics, and history. Her second book, Dreaming in Russian: The Cuban Soviet Imaginary weaves this balance in exploring how Cubans remember the approximately three decades of diplomatic, political, economic, and cultural relations between the Soviet Union and Cuba and how they shaped the histories, identities, cultures, and linguistic orientations of Cubans both on the island and in diaspora. Drawing on interviews with Cuban artists and scholars along with resources from cinema and archival collections, Loss paints a rich tapestry of Cuban cultural heritage that shows how many in the island (and abroad) still retain aspects of the Soviet era in negotiating their lives, identities, and social relationships. Similarly, her translations highlight a range of complex psychological states, historical heritages, and personal testimonies that capture the diverse postcolonial and post-Soviet experiences of Cubans and Cuban Americans. They particularly show how such experiences can provide valuable interventions in thinking about theoretical questions related to local and global discourses of identity politics.


Loss’s interest in translation studies has also made its way into her classroom. She believes that effective teaching involves collaborative thinking and maintaining a dialogue with students that sometimes takes everyone out of their comfort zones. In her classes, students not only read and engage Latin American literatures and histories both in Spanish and in translation, they are also encouraged to be translators themselves, to gain a first-hand experience about challenges and rewards of working with multiple languages and cultural contexts. She recalls that a few years ago in a writing seminar, filled largely with seniors and Spanish majors, students collaborated with one another and with her in carrying out a rough initial translation of a canonical essay by Jorge Mañach. From this act of translating,” she notes, “students learned not just about history, literature, and translation theory, but also about how to transplant early twentieth century registers of Cuban writing into US English.” Students also made use of various digital tools, and were fortunate enough to hear first-hand from several expert guests, including our very own librarian Marisol Ramos. Praising the guest lecturers that influenced her strongly throughout her undergraduate and graduate studies, Loss tries to regularly invite scholars and artists to our department. Since the class, Loss has been steadily revising this translation. In fact, it has recently been published by Linkgua in Barcelona, Spain, with acknowledgements to the contributions of all of her students. In the near future, she hopes to offer a translation studies class at the graduate level where she envisions doing similar collaborative work with students.


Arnab Dutta Roy