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James Nicolopulos

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James Robert Nicolopulos Born August 22nd, 1945 in Berkeley, CA to Thomas J. and Sarah Nicolopulos. Passed away December 1st 2010 at Austin, TX from complications of biliary duct cancer, surrounded by loving family, colleagues, and friends. A professor at the University of Texas at Austin since 1992, after receiving his doctorate in Hispanic Languages & Literatures from the University of California, Berkeley earlier that year. Prof. Nicolopulos, affectionately known as Jaime, was an eminent scholar in the fields of Renaissance Hispanic and Colonial Latin American poetics. Not only was his knowledge of his field encyclopedic, but his deep study of classics, medieval and Renaissance poetics, and European and Latin American History, combined with a powerful and active intellect deepened by rich and adventurous life experience, made him a truly important and widely influential scholar, teacher and mentor. Prof. Nicolopulos was perhaps even more widely esteemed for his monumental and original contributions to the study of the Mexican and "Border" genre of topical folk ballads known as corridos, along with their social/historical roots, context, and evolving cultural significance. Since the 1980s he collaborated closely on numerous corrido and border music related projects with the renowned researcher, collector, archivist, and publisher of American vernacular music, Chris Strachwitz, his Arhoolie record label, the Arhoolie Foundation, and the Down Home Music store in El Cerrito, CA. Among the most notable projects were the publication of the definitive biography of the 20th century pioneer Tejano, Mexican/American singer and recording artist, Lydia Mendoza and her family, assisting in the creation of an online audio archive of Mexican-American music recorded on commercial phonograph records during the 20th century, known as the Frontera Collection, and seminal research into the emergence and early history of the controversial ""Border Culture"" genre of the ""narcocorrido"". He often brought in practicioners of the corrido to perform in academic venues. He was active not only in his home department, Spanish & Portugese, but in the Center for Mexican American Studies as well. He was an organizer of numerous memorable conferences including "Sor Juana Inés de La Cruz: Her Life, Works, and Times"-1995, and "The Corrido as Contemporary Narrative in Greater Mexico:- 1996. He often returned to his alma mater of U.C., Berkeley as a visiting faculty member. Prof. Nicolopulos was a creative pioneer who early integrated the Internet into his teaching, starting with the construction of his first academic web-site in 1996. His students not only had easy and free access to the riches of his collections and commentaries, but were required to produce their own original sites to be linked together to build an ever-widening and deepening on-line body of content, knowledge, and thought intended to be freely accessible not only to academia, but to all. Prof. Nicolopulos is fondly remembered by his colleagues and by his wide circle of friends as an irrepressible spirit who was a loyal and caring friend, a raconteur par excellence, and a generous and tireless mentor. Jaime was born while his father was at sea in the South Pacific as a WWII merchant marine seaman aboard the liberty ship S.S. James Gordon Bennett after a stint as a personnel manager in a So. San Francisco shipyard where liberty ships were built. His mother had recently finished library school. After the war the family settled in the Montclair District of Oakland, CA where Jaime attended public schools. Jaime's father went on to pursue a distinguished career in State civil service, becoming the Supervisor of the State of California Conciliation Service, where he acted as a widely respected mediator in high-profile labor disputes over many years. Tom Nicolopulos was an accomplished linguist fluent in several languages and an avid amateur scholar who read ancient Greek and Latin, as well as a noted authority on U.S. labor history. Jaime later told a colleague that his passion for the study of epic poetry began early with the experience of sitting by while his father recited the Odyssey aloud. Sarah too was a voracious reader with a keen intellect, and an early and staunch activist in the consumer rights movement which helped establish the product labeling and disclosure practices we now take for granted. As an undergraduate at U.C.Berkeley in the early 60s at the time of the Free Speech Movement, Jaime was not immune to the influences of the chaotic atmosphere in what was the epicenter of the emerging counter-culture revolution. He dropped out before completing his baccalaureate despite having won such honors as a National Defense Scholarship to study Arabic at a Harvard summer program. For the next few decades he he lived a bohemian and often adventurous life in California and in Washington State, as well as making several extended and rugged journeys deep into Mexico and Central America, living rough in very remote places among the local native and mestizo people. His most extended soujourn was several years spent with his first wife, Earlanne (" Chipper") deep in the Yucatan near the as yet undeveloped site of Ruinas Tulúm where he was for a time factotum of the Coconut plantation of an elderly Mayan lady. After his return to the U.S. and the birth in 1976 of his son Tasho by his first wife, the marriage eventually ended and he began to feel adrift. Alone, broke, without a resume, and nearly 40, he resolved to re-invent himself and continue his education. While working nights as a taxi driver he managed to re-enroll at U.C. Berkeley where he almost immediately began to distinguish himself. With the priceless mentoring of the late Prof. Jose "Pepe" Durand, of Prof. Ignacio Navarrete, and of his dissertation director, the eminent Prof. Emilie Bergmann, he finally received his doctorate. He received much help in Spanish-American colonial literature from the late Peruvian scholar, Antonio Cornejo Polar. Shortly afterwards he began his career at U.T. Austin and married a colleague, Christina Barber, Ph.d. of Berkeley, CA who was to become the loving companion of the rest of his life. Jaime is survived by his wife, Christina, of Austin, son, Tasho of San Francisco, CA, brother, Peter of Oakland, CA, niece, Tai of San Francisco, CA, and former wife Chipper of Canaveral, FLA. A memorial will be held in the 2nd floor lounge, Department of Spanish and Portugese, Benedict Hall, The University of Texas at Austin, Monday, December 6th, 2010 from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m.
Published in Austin American-Statesman on Dec. 6, 2010
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