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Westminster College Professor Travels 6,000 Miles throughout Brazil to Write Book

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Posted on Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dr. Bethany Hicok, Westminster College professor of English, traveled 6,000 miles to and throughout Brazil to write her latest book, Elizabeth Bishop’s Brazil, which was published last week by the University of Virginia Press.

In the book, Hicok informs readers about the transformative impact of Brazil on the life of Elizabeth Bishop, a Pulitzer prize-winning North American poet who spent nearly two decades in Brazil. Hicok focuses in on that time in Bishop’s career, beginning with Bishop’s first trip to South America in 1951 when she fell in love with a Brazilian aristocrat, Lota de Macedo Soares, who influenced her decision to stay.

“Elizabeth Bishop’s Brazil represents the poet’s long, long conversation with the country of Brazil through her poetry and prose writing: its language, culture, people, politics, poverty, wealth, architecture, and its incredible natural beauty,” said Hicok.

Hicok traveled throughout Brazil to write the book, including a 500-mile boat trip down the Amazon River, in order to recreate Bishop’s travels and understand the places where she lived and worked. Hicok learned Portuguese and studied Brazilian literature, language, history, and culture. In order to understand Bishop’s writing in a Brazilian context, Hicok drew on Bishop’s letters, unpublished writing in the archives at Vassar College, histories of Brazil, and a broad range of sources in anthropology, architectural history, and philosophy. 

“I write about her, first and foremost, because I love her poetry, particularly her use of imagery, which is often startling,” said Hicok. “I have taught her for many years in all kinds of classes. She has a great poem called ‘The Fish,’ which is an excellent example of close observation and description, but it also stages a kind of ethical dilemma. I use that poem in my honors inquiry course for that reason.”

Katherine Schaefer-St. Pierre, a junior English major with a secondary education minor, worked on the book as an editor, checking the quotations in the final manuscript. 

“I went back to every single original referenced source to make sure the quotes she used were correct down to the comma,” said Schaefer-St. Pierre. “I absolutely loved the experience, and it helped me strengthen my writing. Reading Dr. Hicok’s poetry and prose analysis truly helped me format and phrase my own writing.”

Although Hicok has been reading and writing about Bishop for years, this project really began in 2010 when she received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to study Brazilian literature in Brazil for one month. 

For more information, contact Hicok at or (724) 946-6349.