Chamberlain helped grow Center for Latin American Studies

Bobby John Chamberlain, associate professor emeritus following a 33-year career as a faculty member in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures, died at 75 on Aug. 7, 2022.

Chamberlain’s arrival at Pitt, recalled Keith McDuffie, who served as department chair for many years, was not just a boon to the department “but for the Center for Latin American Studies and the University Center for International Studies. When he came he gave structure to the program and permanence, which was big.

“He was a nationally known figure at the time I hired him,” McDuffie said. “He had published quite a bit. He’d also taught and we’d had good reports on his teaching” at Michigan State and UCLA.

“He was an excellent teacher and that was supremely important,” McDuffie added. “His generous and very kind approach with students was a key part in his teaching,” in particular as he mentored students from Latin American countries who found Pittsburgh to be “very unusual” territory.

Another emeritus professor in the department, John R. Beverley, remembered Chamberlain as “a cherished colleague for some 40 years. He was the sort of teacher who comes in every day even when the weather is atrocious and the commute from the North Hills long.”

“When he came to Pitt, few universities had programs in Portuguese language and literature,” Beverley said. “By dint of his patient and dedicated work, Pitt now has an undergraduate minor in Portuguese and a series of graduate courses in Brazilian literature that most grad students take as part of their preparation for the Ph.D. Our department decided to move from a Spanish peninsular focus to a Latin American focus in the late 1980s. Brazil is the largest and most advanced country of the region, so it was decisive for both the department in its new orientation and the Center for Latin American Studies to offer that country as an area of study.”

Born in Huntington Park, Calif., on Oct. 30, 1946, Chamberlain earned all his degrees at UCLA, receiving the California Governor’s Award in his field alongside his doctorate in Brazilian and Spanish Literature and Linguistics. He was a two-time Fulbright Scholar conducting research in Brazil.

During his career, his research focused on Portuguese language and Brazilian literature, with a concentration on the prose fiction of Brazilian modernism and post modernism and on contemporary literary theory. He published widely in U.S. and Brazilian journals, as well as seven books, five of them as author, including dictionaries and guides to Brazilian Portuguese literature as well as to the author Jorge Amado.

At Pitt, he served as director of the Portuguese program upon his arrival in 1985, acting chair of his department in 1986-87, director of the Brazilian studies program beginning in 1999, and director of the Center for Latin American Studies’ field trip in Brazil in 1994 and 1997. He also served on the Ph.D. committees of many students. Chamberlain retired in 2018.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Katherine/Kay Giercyk Chamberlain, daughter Katherine Perrotti (Matt), grandchildren Scotlynne and Logan Fennell, Griffin, Brighton and Greenleigh Perrotti, son Robert Parker Chamberlain (Katrina Buches), sister Judith Lynn Baggs (Larry), nephew John Baggs (Veronica) and brother Gerald Parker Chamberlain.  

Memorial gifts are suggested to the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation.

Services will be held at a later date.

— Marty Levine