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Modern Language Studies Department

Karen Spira

Associate Professor of Spanish

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Duke Memorial 306


Karen joined Guilford's Department of Modern Language Studies in 2013. Her research focuses on modern and contemporary Latin American fiction. Her scholarly projects grow from the concept of “narrative activism,” investigating how authors mobilize literary technique to intervene in pressing social issues.

In dialogue with Indigenous studies, feminist theory, and narratology, Karen’s scholarship approaches the literary text itself as modeling transformative paradigms for a more just and inclusive world. Her current research analyzes representations of domestic employees in contemporary Peruvian fiction, uncovering how and why literary texts and films confer agency to members of this social group, whom sociologists and political scientists have described as experiencing unparalleled oppression due to an intersectional identity that often includes being female, poor, Indigenous, and rural. 

Karen’s students say she creates a supportive environment that also challenges them to grow. In the classroom, she emphasizes practice over perfection, providing daily opportunities for students to practice employing advanced vocabulary or interpreting complex textual passages, while emphasizing that all attempts — especially those that involve mistakes — are a valuable part of the learning process.

Her pedagogy builds on Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset, which describes challenging practice opportunities, followed by stumbles, followed by feedback and improved practice, as key to significant learning. Karen endeavors to create an immersive and vibrant classroom, a space where students can intentionally set aside the distractions of our tech-driven lives and engage in the deep thought that is the hallmark of higher education. 


University of California, Berkeley, Ph.D., 2013
Comparative Literature
Brown University, A.B., 1998
Comparative Literature, Hispanic Studies

Selected Scholarship

  • “The Woven Text: Andean Cloth as Template and Motif in La sangre de la aurora.” Revista de Estudios de Género y Sexualidades/Journal of Gender & Sexuality Studies (forthcoming in 2023)
  • “Los maestros no humanos de Los ríos profundos.” Arguedas Global: Indigenismo en el nuevo milenio, edited by José Antonio Mazzotti, Universidad César Vallejo, Asociación Internacional de Peruanistas y Revista de Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana, 2021, pp. 337-60.
  • “Toward an Aesthetics of the Abject: Reimagining the Sensory Body in Arguedas’s Los ríos profundos.” Revista Hispánica Moderna, vol. 67, no. 1, 2014, pp. 73-89.

Courses Taught

Span 101: Communicating in Spanish I
Span 102: Communicating in Spanish II
Span 202: Intermediate Conversation and Composition
Span 310: Contemporary Latin America
Span 320: Resistance and Revolution in Latin America
Span 322: Modernity
Span 342: Latinx Culture in the U.S.
Span 350: Novels and Their Narrators
Span 402: Senior Seminar: Indigeneity & Representation
MLS 220: Speak Up in Spanish: Oral Communication Through the Arts
Interdisciplinary Courses
MYCQ 100: Places & Stories
MLS 210: Mexican Childhoods, study abroad program in Oaxaca, Mexico (cross-listed as PSY 210)