Anke Birkenmaier

Anke Birkenmaier

Professor, Spanish and Portuguese


  • Ph.D., Yale University, 2004
  • M.A., Yale University, 2003
  • M.A., University of Tbingen, Germany, 1998


  • Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies
  • Latino Studies
  • American Studies

About Anke Birkenmaier

I am a scholar of modern Caribbean and Latin American literature and culture, and in studying these areas I have two major foci. I study literature in relation to other discourses about culture such as anthropology, looking at the ways in which ideas about cultural difference and blending have evolved over time. I also explore the ways in which the novel has entered in competition with other communication media, especially in the digital age.

My book on Alejo Carpentier, Alejo Carpentier y la cultura del surrealismo en América Latina (2006) presented an analysis of the little known early years of Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier, when he engaged with what I call the dissident avant-garde in Paris in the 1930s (Robert Desnos, the Collège de Sociologie, Antonin Artaud), and worked for the radio and advertising industry. I argue that Carpentiers cycle of American novels, written after his return to Latin America, was profoundly influenced both by the experience he gained as a sound engineer and by the creative potential of surrealism, despite his famous later denial of the movement.

My second monograph, The Specter of Races (2016) tells the story of the interconnected scientific and literary networks that helped establish Latin American anthropology as a key discipline in the Americas for defining common notions of culture and race between the two world wars. My book is a work of intellectual and scientific history that aims to reconstruct a specific historical moment and its importance to our contemporary understanding of Latin America; yet it also reflects on the contradictions of those same theories of culture that have haunted Latin Americanists through today, such as the persistence of concepts of biological race and mestizaje. Focusing on four key figures Cuban intellectual Fernando Ortiz, Haitian scholar and novelist Jacques Roumain, French anthropologist and museum director Paul Rivet, and Brazilian scholar Gilberto Freyre--I trace the transnational networks of scholars in France, Spain, and the United States to which they were connected. My next project is called, The Latin American Novel in the Digital Age, and it will allow me to explore further the ways in which Latin American writers of the 20th and 21st century have engaged with electronic media of mass communication, such as the telephone, the radio, and the internet.

Throughout my research and in my teaching, such as in classes on Violence and Literature in Latin America, Caribbean Avant-Gardes, and Returns to Realism in Latin America. I have emphasized the importance of local knowledge, and yet the impossibility of separating out national or even regional currents of thought from the rest of the world. Finally, as director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies here at Indiana University (since 2015), I have profited immensely from working with Latin Americanist scholars in other fields and am a firm believer in the vibrancy of Latin American studies and their absolute relevance today for anyone studying contemporary issues such as populism, migration, the environment, and much more.

Podcast appearances

Televising the Revolution: Cuba in Film and Fiction.” Conversation with Douglas Storm, Interchange Producer. WFHB. February 28, 2017, 5:30-6:30 pm.


  • Caribbean literature and culture
  • Modern Latin American narrative
  • Latin American literature and anthropology
  • Radio and media theory
  • Latin American avant-gardes


  • The Specter of Races. Latin American Anthropology and Literature between the Wars. New World Studies. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016.
  • Co-editor, with Esther Whitfield, Havana Beyond the Ruins. Cultural Mappings after 1989. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011.
  • Versionen Montezumas. Lateinamerika in der historischen Imagination des 19. Jahrhunderts. Mit dem vollständigen Manuskript von Oswald Spenglers Montezuma. Ein Trauerspiel (1897). Berlin, Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2011.
  • Alejo Carpentier y la cultura del surrealismo en América Latina. Madrid: Vervuert-Iberoamericana, 2006.
  • Cuba: un siglo de literatura (1902-2002). Co-edited with Roberto González Echevarría. Madrid: Colibrí, 2004.
Selected articles
  • “’Soy una Juana de Arco electrónica’: Severo Sarduy’s radio play ‘Dolores Rondón’. La Habana Elegante. Segunda época. 57 (November 2015).
  • ”Leonardo Padura and the New Historical Novel” A contracorriente 13.1 (Fall 2015): 13-25. Special issue: “Post-Detection Padura”. Eds. Guillermina de Ferrari, Vicky Unruh.
  • “El linchamiento, el teléfono móvil y la gran ciudad: dos ficciones negras de Ena Lucía Portela.” Mitologías hoy. Revista de pensamiento, crítica y estudios literarios latinoamericanos (Barcelona) 10 (2014): 63-71. Special issue: “Una ventana a la obra de Ena Lucía Portela y a la narrativa cubana del siglo XXI.”
  • “Scenarios of Colonialism and Culture. Oswald Spengler’s Latin America.” MLN Hispanic Issue 28.2 (March, 2013): 256-276.
  • “Entre filología y antropología: Fernando Ortiz y el Día de la Raza.” Antípoda. Revista de antropología y arqueología 15 (Colombia) (July-Dec 2012). Special issue: “Antropología y literatura.” 193-221.
  • “Introduction: Is there a Post-Cuban Literature?” Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas 82. 44.1. Special issue: “Cuba inside and out” (May 2011). 6-12.
  • "El hispanismo en América. Literatura, estudios culturales y lingüística en el panorama actual." Nuevos hispanismos interdisciplinarios y trasatlánticos. Ed. Julio Ortega. Madrid: Iberoamericana-Vervuert, 2010. 199-213.
  • "Art of the Pastiche: José Manuel Prieto's Rex and Cuban Literature of the 1990s." Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 43. Special Issue: "Cuban Literature of the 1990s" (2009): 123-147.
  • "From Surrealism to Popular Art: Paul Deharme's Radio Theory." Modernism/Modernity 16.2 (2009): 357-374.
  • Dirty Realism at the End of the Century: Latin American Apocalyptic fictions."Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 40 (fall 2006): 489-512.
  • "Travestismo latinoamericano: Sor Juana y Sarduy."Ciberletras 7: "Homenaje al centenario de la independencia de Cuba" (2002).
  • "Más allá del realismo sucio: El rey de La Habana de Pedro Juan Gutiérrez." Cuban Studies 32 (2001): 37-55.

Honors & Awards

  • Humboldt Fellowship for Experienced Researchers (2010).
  • Premio Iberoamericano 2007 of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) for Alejo Carpentier y la cultura del surrealismo en América Latina.
  • Whiting Fellowship in the Humanities (2003-2004).

Current research projects

  • “Reading Scenes: The Latin/o American Novel in the Age of Electronic Communication.”
  • “In Search of a National Language: Caribbean Intellectuals and Polyglossia.”