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Luis Leal: 1907—: Scholar, Literary Critic

Need For Education Sparked Self-motivation

Leal attended Catholic school as a child, where he read translations of Italian stories. The school taught no foreign languages; however, the stories sparked an interest that he pursued by minoring in Italian as a university graduate student. The options open to Leal following high school were limited because many universities in Mexico were not operating. For a few years he studied at home, reading texts selected by his mother and father. His father, who had studied engineering, introduced Leal to nineteenth century Spanish novels and discussed newspaper articles with him daily. Eventually, despite knowing little English, Leal applied to and was accepted by Northwestern University, a school many of his hometown friends had attended. He set out to study mathematics.

At a Glance . . .

Born on September 17, 1907, in Linares, NL, Mexico; married Gladys Clemens in 1936; children: Antonio and Luis Alonso. Education: Northwestern University, BS, Spanish, 1940; University of Chicago, MA, Spanish, 1941; University of Chicago, PhD, Spanish and Italian, 1950. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1943-45.

Career: University of Chicago, instructor, 1942-43, 1946-48, assistant professor, 1948-52; University of Mississippi, associate prof, 1952-56; University of Arizona, visiting prof, 1955-56; Emory University, assoc prof, 1956-59; University of Illinois, Urbana, assoc prof, 1959-62, prof, 1962-76, professor emeritus, 1976–; University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), visiting prof, 1976-77, 1985-91, 1993-94, 1997–; University of California, Los Angeles, visiting prof, 1977-78; UCSB Center for Chicano Studies, research scholar, 1978-80, 1984-85, acting director, 1980-83, Ventana Abierta: Revista Latina de Literatura, Arte y Cultura, editor, 1990s–; Stanford University, visiting prof, 1985, 1991-93; UCSB Department of Chicano Studies, endowed chair, 1994-96.

Memberships: Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española; Academia Española; Modern Language Association of America.

Selected awards: Scholar of the Year, National Association for Chicano Studies, 1988; Aguila Aztec Award, Mexican government, 1991; University of California, Santa Barbara, Luis Leal Endowed Chair of Chicano Studies, 1994; National Humanities Medal, President Bill Clinton, 1997; honorary doctor of literature, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2000.

Addresses: Home—542 Wessex Ct., Goleta, CA 93117-1600.

After arriving in Chicago, Leal went to live with a family from Mexico in a poor west side neighborhood made up of mostly European immigrants. His lack of English skills delayed his entrance into the university for several years. He gradually improved his English with the help of Gladys Clemens, whom he married in 1936, and by watching movies and auditing classes. During this time, he also worked as a Spanish proofreader, read Spanish novels, and developed friendships with other Latin Americans, including the Spanish consul.

Once Leal entered Northwestern University, he found himself taking more Spanish classes than mathematics courses. When a Spanish professor suggested he change majors, he began studying literary criticism and literary history. By the time he earned his bachelor of arts degree in 1940, Leal had decided to become a professor. The following year he completed his master's degree at the University of Chicago, writing his thesis, a literary history, on Amado Nervo. Because he identified himself as a norteño, Leal also wrote a few papers while a student on the themes and other characteristics of northern Mexican writers.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: C(hristopher) J(ohn) Koch Biography - C.J. Koch comments: to Sir (Alfred Charles) Bernard Lovell (1913– ) BiographyLuis Leal: 1907—: Scholar, Literary Critic Biography - Need For Education Sparked Self-motivation, Began To Study Mexican Literature, Moved From University To University