My three weeks in Spain in May 2001 came about because of my work on American novelist Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927), which appeared in a 1999 scholarly edition (University of Nebraska Press) that I contributed to as volume editor. Cather’s novel explores the early missionary activities of Spaniards in New Mexico, and a Spanish-language edition was being prepared by Manuel Broncano, director of modern languages at the Universidad de León. Broncano, who had used my historical essay and explanatory notes in his edition of La muerte Llama al arzobispo, invited me to teach a graduate seminar at his university, as well as to lecture on an American literary topic at two other universities. Kennedy Center funding enabled me to accept his invitation. The English faculty at León specifically requested that I introduce literature that contained American response to Europe and European to America as this would be of particular interest to their students and contribute to international understanding.
My arrival in León was celebrated with significant hospitality, including visits to homes, dinner invitations, and tours of the countryside. These were great fun, although I had to restrict them after a few days so I could hole up and finish work on the project I had committed myself to. León’s ancient university has a new, American-style campus outside the city walls where I taught, but I was housed in quarters for visiting scholars and graduate students in the old part of the city. This allowed me the privilege of walking alongside the tenth-century walls and through the cathedral plaza on my way to class each morning. The layers of history helped me get perspective on the newness of American culture and the literature I was helping these students discover.
I worked with nine graduate students—varyingly proficient in English. Part of the value of the course for them was being forced to ask questions and comment in English, since I have no Spanish. The American texts we read not only introduced them to cultural interaction but also to atypical aspects of literature usually characterized by New England romantics, Lost Generation modernists, and, recently, contemporary minority voices. Our texts included Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun, Henry James’s The Wings of the Dove, as well as Cather’s Archbishop. I also brought copies of Emily Dickinson’s poems to relieve the intensity of working on prose texts, and because Dickinson was the lecture topic I chose for my visits to the universities at Santiago de Compostela and Oviedo.