Luis Yglesias, longtime faculty member, dies

Photo/Mike Lovett

Luis Yglesias

Luis Ellicott Yglesias, 78, of Rindge, NH, passed away peacefully March 30, 2014, with his wife and son by his side, at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Mass.

He was born Jan. 19, 1936, in Ann Arbor, Mich., son of the late Luis Joaquin Iglesias and Marian (Fullmer) Iglesias.

Yglesias grew up in Havana, Cuba, until he went to the United States for boarding school at age 12. He was a 1954 graduate of the Asheville School in Asheville, NC. He earned a BA (’58) and a Ph.D. (’68) in romance and comparative literature from Harvard University. He was associate professor of Spanish and comparative literature at Brandeis University for 42 years.

Yglesias was a humanist, a true Renaissance man: teacher, storyteller, poet, gardener, carver, drummer, trickster, humorist. He was a person who loved to work with his hands as well as his head, whether it be tending to the many animals he had over the years, planting a football-field-sized vegetable garden in the 1970s at his homestead in Rindge, writing poetry in his study, or teaching his undergrad and graduate students for almost half a century.

The subject range of his celebrated comparative literature courses included:  “The Spiritual and Literary Consequences of the African Diaspora,” “Samba, Rumba, Reggae: the Music and Literature of the Caribbean,”  “The Roots of Literature,” in which he explored the oral literature of Africa, Australia and America, “Dancing the Orange” about modern European poetry, “Dada and Surrealism,”  “The Literature of Adolescence,”  “Imagining How We Are:  East Meets West,” and “Introduction to Folklore:  Myths, Fairy Tales and the Blues.” While teaching, Yglesias maintained that he was always learning too because he constantly changed his courses and learned from his students’ own contributions. He asked hard questions and debunked falsehoods as he nurtured his students to seek clarity. At the same time Yglesias asked them to embrace the power of myth and storytelling because he wanted his students to see where the latter could take them, and where they had come from. He took an innovative “outside the box” approach to teaching classes, integrating a multi-media aspect that was both ahead of its time and award winning. Yglesias became ‘Uncle Luis’ to many of his former students who over the years transitioned into close friends and brought their families by his New Hampshire homestead to work the garden or to share a meal and conversation. Yglesias always said his rainbow suspenders, which he wore daily, represented all the colors and ethnicities of the planet.

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s Yglesias co-directed Brandeis University Seminars with close friend and colleague, Karen Klein. In 1990 they received a significant grant from the Ford Foundation for Faculty Development Seminars in African Literature in order to integrate African texts into the study of the humanities at Brandeis. During the late 1990s, Yglesias, Klein, and Maurice Stein, also a dear friend, founded Brandeis’ humanities interdisciplinary program (HIP).

Yglesias liked to note that on his father’s side, he was the son of Spanish and Cuban revolutionaries, and on his mother’s, he was the son of Scottish Quaker pacifists, several of whom played important roles in the early history of our nation. He was Cuban and American at the same time, and thus embodied a dichotomy often encountered in this country. However, he taught his students to be what he called “AND,” not either/or, but “BOTH,” and to treasure and celebrate all ancestors and influences. He was a cerebral, spiritual and nurturing force, having taught up to the end, giving his grand nephew a Spanish lesson the very day he went in hospital.

In the late 1960s – early ‘70s, Yglesias lived at Packer Corners, aka The Total Loss Farm, in Guilford, Vt., a much written about commune where young people experimented with “back to the land” self sufficiency and “living off the grid.”

Though he was most passionate about the act of storytelling as live performance, Yglesias did publish in his lifetime: a novella-length, illustrated prose poem, My Father’s House: A Poem (Identity Press, 1967), The Night Tree: Poems (Green Dolphin Press, 1968), as well as varied critical essays for New Boston Review (1970s) and others.

From 1974-1975 he directed the Summer Upward Bound Program at Brandeis to help underprivileged teenagers bridge the education gap.

Yglesias’ favorite narrative was Homer’s Odyssey, which was appropriate because he went on many an odyssey in his own life, from his international travels to his intellectual work. His medical odysseys included a brain aneurysm and double stroke in 2000, which resulted in 4-and-a-half months in Boston hospitals. It took a village to support Yglesias at that time and Brandeis colleagues and students, plus family and friends on the home front in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, made that possible. His exercise specialists and friends at the Wellness Center in Peterborough, NH, played a key role in Yglesias’ healing over the past 14 years.

Yglesias created and tended to the celebrated indoor plant garden at Henry David’s Restaurant in Keene, NH, during the decade from 1980 to 1990. This was his hobby, but also a passion. He followed this up with co-ownership of Lilly’s On The Pond restaurant with his wife Suanne, and Helen and Lee Kendall in Rindge, from 1994 to 2009.

Survivors include his wife of 38 years, Suanne P. Yglesias, of Rindge, NH; his son Pablo E. Yglesias, daughter-in-law Margot E. Glass, grandchildren, Isaac E. and Nona R. Yglesias, all of Northampton, Mass.; Pablo’s mother and Yglesias’ first wife, Sarah B. Wulff, of Boston; his niece Betsy L. Plumb and husband, Lyonel Jean-Pierre, Jr., and their son Lyonel Jean-Pierre III, of Hudson, Mass.; his brother J. George Iglesias of Tucson, Ariz.; his nieces Amber A. Cripp of Tucson, Ariz., and Carrie Ann Iglesias of Portland, Oreg.; a very special sister-in-law and brother-in-law, and many treasured nephews, nieces, cousins, aunts and uncles from his extended family on both sides and a host of dear, long-time friends and students as well.

A memorial service celebrating Yglesias’ life will be held on Saturday, June 21, (Summer Solstice) at the Old Meetinghouse at the junction of Blackberry Lane and Route 124 in Jaffrey, NH.

In lieu of flowers the family encourages donations to an educational charity of your choosing.

Categories: Alumni, General, Humanities and Social Sciences

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