English professor creates her own material


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Her ears pop, releasing more than the built up cabin pressure from the plane touching down in SFO. The aroma of Brazil still engulfs her carry on luggage, her hair, and she could still relish Portuguese flavors as they linger on her tongue.

English Professor Kathleen de Azevedo Feinblum has just returned from a trip to Rio de Janiero, Brazil, her native home. She was born to a Brazilian mother and Jewish-American father. At the age of three the Feinblum’s left Brazil and moved to the United States, leaving behind the corpus of her culture, which was to be resuscitated by her pupils many years later.

“I saw all these students and they weren’t embarrassed of being Filipino,” says Feinblum. “I would get essays about them going back to the Philippines and speaking the language. And I thought ‘Well that’s a really good idea. Why should I be embarrassed if my students are totally comfortable with being bicultural.’ Because of that I went back to Brazil.”

She began buying books written in Portuguese and studying the language. During her first trip to Brazil Feinblum realized she spoke the language better than she thought.

“Learning a new language changed the way I wrote, absolutely,” says Feinblum. “It gives you another writing voice. All of a sudden you have a new rhythm and you’ve just doubled your capacity for words.”

As a youth in a time when ethnic diversity was not as widely understood as it is now, Feinblum quickly lost touch with her Brazilian roots to assimilate into becoming Americanized, though Brazilian culture thrived in her household.

“I wouldn’t even say a Portuguese word,” says Feinblum. “My mom would cook Brazilian food for Thanksgiving. And I would say ‘You’re supposed to have pumpkin pie.’ Even though we didn’t like pumpkin pie at all. It was like we had to have it because that was really American. That’s how the books in school described Thanksgiving.”

Growing up in North Fork then Quincy, CA, gave Feinblum an itch to leave the small town atmosphere behind by the time she graduated high school.

“I hated living in a small town. I just wanted to get out of there so I applied to SF State. And I just pretty much stayed since then.”

Being both a part-time teacher and aspiring writer is not an easy task. From the endless traveling she had to endure from campus to campus prior to becoming a full-time English professor at Skyline. To hiring and firing a bad agent while trying to get her novel, “Samba Dreamers,” published.

“I used to travel with a disk. I would teach at Cabrillo in Santa Cruz, then in San Jose. Then I would come here [to Skyline], find a computer somewhere and hope no one was looking, and for two hours I would work on the novel. Then I would pocket the disk and go teach my night class.”

Perhaps that is why it took Feinblum over ten years to plant the seed and officially materialize her first novel “Samba Dreamers,” published by the University of Arizona Press, which is set to be released on March 9.

“Samba Dreamers” originally started out as an unrecognized story that was cannibalized into two different pieces which were both published: short story, “Roseas Socorro Katz Coconut”, which is now a chapter in the novel and “Famous Women – Claudette Colbert” which got into The Best American Poetry in 1992.

One may wonder why her surname is not used on the cover of the novel. She thought that her Jewish last name, Feinblum, may discredit her efforts of having “Samba Dreamers” added to a Catholic anthology called Catholic Girls. So she intentionally left it out. Though she was not successful in having her novel added to the anthology, she continued to use her middle name, de Azevedo, from then on. “Samba Dreamers” has been included to the University of Arizona Press’ Camino del Sol Series, which is dedicated to publishing Latino/Latina and Native American fiction and poetry.

When asked about the title and where it came from, a look of anguish taints Feinblum’s face; she is still coping with the acceptance of the title. Feinblum had to go back and forth with the editor until they both agreed, or more so settled, on “Samba Dreamers.”

If things had gone in Feinblum’s favor people would be awaiting the release of “Tropicalismo,” the title she had originally given the novel.

“They made me change the title of my book to have a more pedestrian title because a lot of people don’t know about Brazil.”

Tropicalismo, which is the basis of her novel, is an artistic and cultural movement that began in Brazil in the 60s, born from those who refused to have their right to political expression tyrannized.

Brazil never really had a civil rights movement. Tropicalismo allowed Brazilians to acknowledge and blend the various elements of their African, Indian, and conquistador history, as well as mock the stereotypes that dominated Hollywood and the entertainment industry, in a manner that distinguished the hodgepodge of cultures into its own.

No longer allowing Brazil to be consumed by one culture, the efforts of the Tropicalismo successfully helped to form Brazil’s national identity, like the preface of “Samba Dreamers” explains.

Feinblum’s fulfillment of both the demanding roles she has adopted, as well as continuing her contribution to the annual Women On Writing conference held here at Skyline, proves to be a success for this hard working and dedicated woman. Her reputation as a teacher holds well amongst Skyline students.

“She’s very thorough,” says Tiffany Green, who is on her third semester at Skyline and is majoring in Criminal Justice. “I like her discussions because she goes point by point. She’s not all over the place and she makes the class easy to follow.”

Professor Katherine Harer can affirm Feimblum’s dedication to doing and being both a teacher and writer as well. Harer who is also an English professor at Skyline knows first hand that being a teacher alone requires a lot of discipline and drive, more often then always taking work home throughout the week and weekend.

“At Skyline there aren’t that many [faculty members who are also] working artists,” says Harer. “She’s a real hard worker, creating on her own and not just for students. It’s inspirational to see somebody else around here who is also doing something other than teaching. Kathleen manages to teach and write everyday which is not easy.”