Professor George On The English Graduate Program

March 01, 2017

Sheldon George

Get to know Professor Sheldon George, Associate Professor and Director of the Graduate Program in English!

What do you teach at Simmons?

I teach a variety of courses in literary and cultural theory, and in African American and American literature. My courses include "Race and Gender in Psychoanalytic Theory," "Toni Morrison and American Literature," "Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance," "Contemporary Critical Theory," "African American Fiction" and "20th Century U.S. Fiction."

What's your favorite class to teach?

I love them all. One thing I have enjoyed at Simmons is that I have been able to design and offer courses I want to teach. My classes draw upon my scholarly work, so I teach material I am passionate about; my courses on Toni Morrison and psychoanalytic theory inform both articles I have written and my recent book, Trauma and Race: A Lacanian Study of African American Identity. I find my courses to be meaningful because they engage ideas that are important to my own intellectual life, ideas about identity, operations of power, and the discursive impact of literature on the social sphere. I think students sense my passion for my work and respond to my courses as offering insights that reach beyond the classroom.

What is your book about?

Trauma and Race uses the theory of Jacques Lacan, a French Freudian psychoanalyst, to explain how slavery is a traumatic event that still shapes identity and political activity in America at an unconscious, psychic level. It shows that concepts of whiteness and blackness bind racialized subjects to structures of enjoyment and pain that were once made available to the psyche in times of slavery. What it argues is that slavery produced a psychic relation to pain and trauma that subjects today still seek out through both racism and racial identity.

Tell us about the English Department at Simmons.

The department is made up of tenured professors with specializations in a variety of areas, ranging from feminist, postcolonial, film and psychoanalytic theories to Native American, Victorian, African American, Shakespearean and children's literature. Our faculty has produced nationally recognized scholarship on authors and thinkers such as Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Margaret Atwood, Jacques Lacan, Toni Morrison, Jacques Derrida, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Ralph Ellison, Ben Jonson and John Donne.  

They have also received numerous awards for their creative and scholarly work. Most notably, Professor Suzanne Leonard won the Florence Howe Award for Outstanding Feminist Scholarship from the Women's Caucus for the Modern Languages, and Professor Afaa Weaver was honored with the prestigious Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.

What do graduates of the Simmons MA in English program go on to do?

The great thing about a degree in English is that it provides graduates with skills in communication and critical analysis that are transferable to numerous fields.  It trains students not only to meticulously engage and evaluate information, but also to convey their findings and opinions with clarity and organization to a wide range of audiences.  

In addition to a focus on oral and written communication, the program at Simmons emphasizes research skills and encourages pedagogical reflection and training through competitively awarded Teaching Assistantships. While a majority of our students apply these skills to a field related to teaching, others embrace the MA as preparation for a Ph.D. program, and still others end up in such wide ranging occupations as editors, writers, librarians, film producers, journalists, public relations specialists, and advertisers.

What's your favorite book?

There are so many. Just about anything by Toni Morrison would hit the mark, but one of my favorite texts to teach is Edgar Allen Poe's only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. It is a wonderful sea adventure novel with all of the gore we expect of Poe, but it also penetrates and lays bare the American psyche in this moment in time, displaying how the violence of 19th century America is tied up with psychic terrors and expansionist longings for adventure and domination.

What's your favorite quote?

Frantz Fanon's argument about discourse, his statement that "every dialect is a way of thinking," is important to me. It gets to ideas about the interconnection between language, subjectivity and literature that are essential to both my teaching and my personal sense of self.

Fill in the blank: When I'm not teaching I'm:   

Playing with Thomas the Tank Engine and my two sons.  

Do you have a hidden talent?

I used to be a pretty good fencer. I fenced foil and epee for about eight years. My oldest son (7 yrs old) has taken up the sport and takes weekly lessons.