Gordon Brotherston obituary | Native Americans

My friend and former colleague at the University of Essex, Gordon Brotherston, who has died aged 83, was a scholar in the field of Native American literature.

Born in Chester, Gordon was the son of Percy Brotherston, an insurance agent, and Isabel (nee Smith), and went to Birkenhead school in Merseyside. After studying Spanish at the universities of Leeds, where he met his first wife, Gisela Langsdorf, and Cambridge, he joined the newly established department of literature at the University of Essex in 1965, working there for more than two decades before moving in 1990 to Indiana University and then Stanford University.

His marriage to Gisela ended in divorce in 1982. Four years later, he wed Alison Bower, who died soon afterwards. In 1988 he married Ana Gallegos; they divorced in 2001. In 2003 he married Lúcia Sá, whom he had met at Indiana University.

His many books include Latin American Poetry (1976), The Emergence of the Latin American Novel (1977), Image of the New World (1979), Book of the Fourth World (1992) and Painted Books from Mexico (1995).

Gordon liked to encourage his younger colleagues. Among his lifelong collaborators was the US poet Ed Dorn, whose translations with Gordon into English of Native American texts and contemporary Latin American poetry were collected as The Sun Unwound: Original Texts from Occupied America (1999).

His scholarship involved understanding how peoples across the whole American continent had been exploited and often exterminated on the grounds of a supposed inferiority: that they did not write. Gordon showed not only that they did – writing on bark paper, stone, bison hide and cloth – but that this writing told their stories. It was literature just as much as the Iliad and Beowulf. Nobody had done that before; and few, if any, have done it as comprehensively since.

When not writing or teaching, Gordon would be sailing, travelling or building house extensions. These houses – in Wivenhoe, Essex; Tepoztlan, Mexico; Pacifica, California; and Edale in Derbyshire (where he spent the last 16 years of his life) – were always full of family and friends and his easy laughter. Along with this laughter came a strong sense of anger against social injustices and warmongering, which led him to co-found the Colchester branch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

He is survived by Lúcia, by his daughters from his first marriage, Isabel, Jenny, Lucy and Katie, by his sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, and by seven grandchildren.

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