New Faces: Sean A. Gordon

Dr. Sean A. Gordon

Compiled by Jefferson Beavers, communication specialist, Department of English

The College of Arts and Humanities welcomes new faculty Dr. Sean A. Gordon to the Department of English. He earned a Ph.D. in English and American Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he recently defended his dissertation, “On Being Dispersed: The Poetics of Dehiscence from ‘We the People’ to Abolition.”

What are you most looking forward to teaching at Fresno State?

I’m most looking forward to building community with students around topics like climate change and environmental and social justice, which are not only important topics to study, but also incredibly urgent issues for us to organize around. As someone who has always lived on the East coast, I have a lot to learn about Fresno and the Central Valley. There’s no better group of people to learn from than students.

What are your teaching specialties? How did you become involved with those areas?

I teach 19th Century American literature with a focus on abolition — the mass movement to end slavery — and the environmental humanities, which has a lot of overlap with abolitionism. I also teach climate change literature, and I hope to offer a class on that soon. Although my focus is literature, I incorporate art, music, philosophy, and science into my teaching and research.

I guess there’s both an intellectual history and a personal and political history to how I became involved in these areas. On the intellectual side, I was interested in the work of William Faulkner as an undergrad, specifically that his work can be said to share stylistic commonalities with Caribbean, Latin American, and South American literature. At the time, this was called “hemispheric American studies.” In grad school, I didn’t stick with Faulkner, instead moving back in time to study core texts of the abolitionist movement. But I did stick with American Studies, which asks us to study culture across a wide range of materials.

It was in my training in American Studies — especially with my teachers Ron Welburn, Nick Bromell, Britt Rusert, Rachel Mordecai, and Hoang Phan — where I learned to see that the abolitionists were making arguments against slavery in every possible field: not just in literature, poetry, or sermons, but also statistics, agriculture, ethnology, forestry, you name it.

On the personal and political side, American Studies as a field is activist. My first American Studies Association conference was in Puerto Rico, and there was a lot of debate about the ethics of hosting a conference on “Dimensions of Empire and Resistance” there. It was basically mandatory to think and rethink intellectual production politically, and I like the organization for that. Afterward, I became involved in my university’s activist graduate student union and became an organizer in other respects, where I was continually asking myself how my research, writing, and teaching could nourish my political commitments and vice versa.

In some ways, my political education has made me a much more literal thinker, especially when I’m reading or teaching about the environmental tradition. If someone writes “seeds of change,” I think, OK, what are we growing here? What are the politics of land and labor being implied? What are the environmental effects?

How do you hope your background will elevate the English Department’s offerings at Fresno State?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t start by acknowledging the amazing classes already offered in the English Department and the history of courses about nature writing and environmentalism that precedes me, for instance, by (recently retired professor emeritus) John R. Hales. I have a great opportunity to build on this legacy by integrating current research in the field and putting my own spin on things.

This fall, for example, I’m offering a topics course about the literary, cultural, and environmental history of the plantation as a paradoxical site of extreme control over both nature and social life, as well as an unusually productive laboratory for literary, cultural, and ecological invention and experimentation. My hope is that courses like this will elevate our awareness of and attention to the connections between literature, social justice, and the environment.

As a new instructor who will be teaching early American literature, what’s your biggest wish for undergraduates as they learn to bring those early voices into the present?

I would say my biggest wish for undergraduates who are reading early American literature is that they recognize the presence of the past. 1780, 1850, 1900? They’re really not that long ago, and the issues, problems, and horizons of possibility are much the same now as they were then.

I don’t mean to generalize, but I think it’s fair to say that as a society, we’re wrapped up in a notion that we have made so much “progress.” In fact, I want us to start with the idea that we’re living through one really long moment and then ask ourselves, well— some things must have changed. What has changed? Why? How does anything change at all? And how do we change it even more? I want students to see that we are actually the readership of this ostensibly older literature.

What are you reading right now?

Right now, I’m in the middle of Yoko Tawada’s new novel “Scattered All Over the Earth,” a futuristic and slightly dystopian novel about a climate refugee who is seeking anyone and everyone from her homeland, Japan (now known as “the land of sushi”) and anyone who can remember how to speak Japanese. It’s an interesting book about how language changes and requires invention in the midst of diaspora and loss, specifically those caused by climate change. The book also has a beautiful cover!

I’ve also been making my way through the newest issue of my favorite magazine, The Funambulist, which means tightrope walker. The current issue focuses on the 60th anniversary of Algerian independence and explores its connections to revolutionary movements around the globe. As in all issues of the magazine, its articles and interviews are characteristically brilliant, incisive, and critically optimistic.

What is a book you think everyone should read, and why?

For nineteenth-century books, I think everyone should read Martin Delany’s “Blake, or the Huts of America,” a tour-de-force novel about organizing a mass movement against the plantation system, which is part of why I’m going to assign it this fall. A more recent book I think everyone should read is “We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice,” a book of essays by Mariame Kaba that has some necessary insights about harm reduction and the role of our imaginations in ending cycles of violence. 

What’s a fun fact people may not know about you?

I don’t know that it’s a particularly fun fact, but people wouldn’t otherwise know that my path to becoming a literature professor started with an interest in cognitive neuroscience. It eventually dawned on me that I was much more interested in the language and grammar of imagination than the biological processes.

I’m also very, very Aquarian, and I’ve played in a bunch of rock bands. Guitar, bass, drums, vocals. Music is really my first love.

What are your fall 2022 office hours?

My office hours are Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 11:30 to 1:30, in the Peters Business Building, room 456. I can be reached at

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