Late professor’s legacy remembered with memorial, exhibit

The School of International Letters and Cultures recently held a memorial in honor of David William Foster, a Regents Professor of Spanish and women and gender studies who died last year at the age of 79.  

Foster joined Arizona State University 55 years ago and helped build the Spanish and Portuguese programs that are now housed in the School of International Letters and Cultures. Over the course of his career, he published more than 50 book-length, single-authored critical studies, bibliographies and anthologies, and over 35 edited and co-edited anthologies. 

The memorial in Old Main on the Tempe campus, held the day before what would have been Foster’s 81st birthday, had in-person attendees and was also livestreamed on the school's YouTube channel. Remembrances from Foster’s former colleagues and students continued after the event concluded as members of the school community shared stories of the beloved professor.  

“The memorial for David was a great success,” Spanish Professor Carmen Urioste-Azcorra said. “It served as a homecoming for many doctoral students who worked with David since the early '70s, and we had presentations and messages from three different Latin American countries that David knew very well: Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.” 

Edurne Beltrán de Heredia Carmona, an assistant professor at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina, worked closely with Foster during her Spanish PhD studies at ASU. Beltrán graduated from ASU in summer 2021.  

“Working with Dr. Foster meant always having a second opportunity for everything (and a third one, too),” Beltrán said. “I will always remember what he told me the last time we met in person: ‘Always stay by the side of your students and support them, even when you know they aren’t always right.’” 

An exhibit celebrating Foster’s life and career is now open in the lobby of Hayden Library. The exhibit includes a short biography of Foster, shelves of books he wrote and other texts relevant to his studies and photographs from his life. It features furniture like a desk and several chairs along with potted plants to make students feel at home and replicate “the unique experience of working with him in his office,” said Seonaid Valiant, curator for Latin American studies at the ASU Library.  

The walls of Foster’s office were covered in posters, and he had numerous bookcases placed back to back and packed full of books, Valiant said. The exhibit is designed to mimic the atmosphere of his office, a place of deep thinking that reflected the personality of the man who occupied it.  

The exhibit “helps all visitors visualize David at work: His desk — like the one in the library — was always perfectly organized, and the office walls were covered with pictures and film posters,” Urioste-Azcorra said. “By virtue of his immense critical production, he was a strong magnet for prospective students. He always had an open-door office policy that made him easily accessible for everybody.” 

Beltrán echoed this experience of feeling welcome in Foster’s office at any time. 

“One of the things from Dr. Foster that will always stay with me is the supportive attitude that he always offered to each and every student,” she said. “Countless times we would walk into his office with all kinds of problems or issues, he would listen carefully and offer a quick, easy solution for us, followed by a funny joke that would make us leave his office motivated.” 

Students, faculty, staff and other members of the greater ASU community can view the exhibit during library hours now through Dec. 1. 

The memorial and library exhibit are just two examples of the many ways ASU is continuing to celebrate Foster’s legacy. The ASU Library has also acquired the David William Foster Papers, Valiant said. They are currently processing 27 boxes of his research material on cultural studies in Latin America. 

Donations are being accepted for the Foster Latin American Research Fellowship Endowment, which supports graduate students completing work in Latin American studies with funding for their travel, housing and other expenses while they conduct research beyond ASU. 

A student lounge was dedicated in Foster’s name in the new Durham Hall building, which houses the School of International Letters and Cultures. And next fall, the inaugural David William Foster Memorial Lecture will be held thanks to a generous donation from his wife, Virginia Ramos Foster.  

“David was an extraordinary human being and scholar, a real mensch with an outstanding mind,” school Director Nina Berman said. “He built and put the Spanish and Portuguese section at ASU on the map, and we are excited that we are able to honor his legacy.”

Kimberly Koerth