Jean Franco (1924-2022)

Photograph of Jean Franco

With great sadness, the Department of English and Comparative Literature mourns our colleague, Professor Jean Franco. She was 98. Professor Franco was a pathbreaking scholar in Latin American and feminist studies and a model of engaged intellectual work. Franco came to Columbia in 1982, and she was first appointed in what was then the department of Spanish and Portuguese. She joined the Department of English and Comparative Literature in 1989, where she found an intellectual home and community alongside Gayatri Spivak, Edward Said and others. She became Professor Emeritus in 1994 but continued her life and research as an active, vibrant scholar. 

Before her affiliation with Columbia, Franco was the first Professor of Latin American literature in England. She was appointed Professor by the University of Essex in 1968 having previously taught at Queen Mary College and Kings College, London University. She then moved to Stanford University where she was later appointed to the Olive H. Palmer Chair of Humanities. 

Franco’s published work was truly groundbreaking, and while her scholarship was central to the development of Latin American studies, her expertise stretched across fields and disciplines, including literary and cultural studies, gender and sexuality studies, hemispheric and postcolonial studies, political studies, and more. As Arturo Arias notes in a 2016 PMLA retrospective of her work, Franco was “ahead of the curve” and “a pioneer, anticipating Latin American Studies by a couple of decades” (Arias, 702).  Franco was one of the editors of the Cultural Studies of the Americas series, published by Minnesota University Press, and was General Editor of the Library of Latin America series, published by Oxford University Press. Her publications stretch across six decades: The Modern Culture of Latin America (1967), An Introduction to Latin American Literature (1969), Plotting Women: Gender and Representation in Mexico (1989), Marcando diferencias: Cruzando Fronteras (1996), Cruel Modernity (2013), and a selection of essays, Critical Passions, edited by Mary Louise Pratt and Kathleen Newman (1999). The Decline and Fall of the Lettered City: Latin America and the Cold War (2002) was translated into Spanish as Decadencia y caída de la ciudad letrada in the collection, Debates. The book was awarded the Bolton-Johnson Prize by the Conference of Latin American Historians for the best work in English on the History of Latin America published in 2003. Plotting Women, Marcando Diferencias, and several chapters of Critical Passions and The Decline and Fall specifically focus on gender and the essays, “Killing Priests, Nuns, Women, Children” and “Gender, Death and Resistance,” have been reprinted on numerous occasions. 

Professor Franco was honored by the governments of Mexico, Chile, and Venezuela for her work on Latin American literature and received awards from PEN and from the Latin American Studies Association for lifetime achievement. She served as President of the Latin American Studies Association in Great Britain and of the Latin American Studies Association in the U.S.

We join Prof. Franco’s family, loved ones, friends, and colleagues in remembering this remarkable scholar and member of our community. 

* Arias, Arturo. “From the Cold War to the Cruelty of Violence: Jean Franco’s Critical Trajectory from The Decline and Fall of the Lettered City to Cruel Modernity.” PMLA 131.3 (2016), 701-170.