Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College


Shawn Christian

Shawn Christian

Associate Professor of English, African American, and American Studies
Coordinator, Program in African, African American, and Diaspora Studies

Primarily a scholar of African American literature and culture, I examine how a range of writers employ literature to represent meaning-making in African American experience and how the making and operation of literary traditions constitute key sites of African American cultural production. As a result, I teach a range of courses from first-year seminars on "sibling rivalry," to senior seminars on the Harlem Renaissance. In addition to teaching and research, I continue a long-held investment in increasing access to higher education through my work as director of the Summer Institute for Literary and Cultural Study and as an advisory board member for the Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers at Phillips Academy Andover. Complementing my work as a former actor and occasional director, I have participated in "post-play" discussions at Trinity Repertory Company and currently serve on the board of directors for the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities.


Ph.D., University of Michigan
M.A., Temple University
B.A., Florida State University

Main Interests

Throughout academic year 2012-2013 and this past summer, I enjoyed a productive and transformative set of professional and personal experiences. In addition to supporting the sixth cohort of the Summer Institute for Literary and Cultural Study, I completed an article on Daniel Black's novel Perfect Peace, presented, with Courtney LaBrie ('13) and my colleague Mike Drout, preliminary results of a lexomic analysis of Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes' 1931 play Mule Bone at the 2013 NeMLA conference in Boston, and offered the keynote address at the 18th Annual Langston Hughes Community Reading in Providence, RI. The most inspiring experience was participating in the National Endowment for the Humanities/Harvard University's W. E. B. Du Bois Institute's seminar on "African American Struggles for Freedom and Civil Rights," where I studied with a wonderful and incredibly impressive group of historian-educators and met civil rights pioneers Esther Cooper Jackson and Dorothy Burnham. In the coming year, I plan to continue collaborative work on the Harlem Renaissance and begin sustained reading of literature produced throughout the long civil rights movement.

Research Interests

"The (New?) 'Rap on Race': Historicizing Calls for Racial Dialogue in the Early Years of Barak Obama's Presidency" in Reading African American Experiences in the Obama Era: Theory, Advocacy, Activism (New York: Peter Lang, 2012).

"Between Black Gay Men: Artistic Collaboration and the Harlem Renaissance in Brother to Brother" in The Harlem Renaissance Revisited: Politics, Arts and Letters (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010).

Review, Founding Fictions of the Dutch Caribbean: Cola Debrot's "My Black Sister" and Boeli van Leeuwen's A Stranger on Earth, translated by Olga E. Roger and Joesph O. Aimone, Wadabagei: A Journal of the Caribbean and Its Diasporas v11.2 (2008).

Review, They Tell Me of a Home, College Language Association Journal (March 2008).

Teaching Interests

20th century American literature, its criticism, and its histories:

  • English 401 Senior Seminar, "Collaborations in 20th Century African American Literature and Culture" (fall 2006); "Harlem Renaissance as a Usable Past" (fall 2007).
  • English 349 Harlem Renaissance and Modernity
  • English 347 Contemporary African American Fiction.
  • English 290 Approaches to Literature and Culture.
  • English 256 Cultural Diversity in US Fiction since 1945.
  • English 209 African American Literature and Culture.
  • English 101 College Writing, "Writing about Black Popular Culture" (fall 2003, spring 2004); "Writing about College" (fall 2004); "Writing about HOUSE Music" (fall 2005, spring 2007); "Writing about Rivalry" (fall 2007); "Writing about the 'Rap on Race'" (spring and fall 2010).
  • First Year Seminar "'Reading' a Renaissance."


Work In Progress

"Bearing the Weight of Inheritance in Topdog/Underdog and A Raisin in the Sun" (article under review)

"The New Negro Is Reading": Black Writers on the Harlem Renaissance's Other Literary Audience (book manuscript in progress)

"Embodied Memorials: James Baldwin, Richard Bruce Nugent, and Bayard Rustin" (article in progress)


Co-director (with former Assoc. Dean of Students Claudia Bell), Wheaton College production of Ntozake Shange's for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf (2004).

Student Projects

Honors Theses:

Seth Cosimini (English), "Building New Motherships: Artistry, Science Fiction, and the Hip Hop Concept Album"; director.

Lauren Provost (English), "Postcolonialism and Anglo-Saxon Literature: A Dialogue" (spring 2010); reader.

William Levenson (American Studies), "Fate, Faulkner, and the Fallen South: The Burden of History in Yoknapatawpha County"; reader.

Adara Meyers (English), "Emily Eden, Mary Carpenter, and the Gendered Mechanisms of Empire" (spring 2008); reader.

Ashley Smith (Anthropology), "'How Indian Are You Anyway?': The Abenaki of the Northeast and the 'Indian Problem" for the 21st Century" (spring 2008); reader.

Alexandre Asancheyev (English), "Social death and civil rights: Theorizing three black subjects" (fall 2004); director.

Independent Studies:

Martin Chang, "Cane's Canonical Status" (spring 2011); Christopher Hank, "'History' in 20th Century American Fiction"(spring 2007); Timothy Johnson, "Critical Pedagogy" (spring 2007); Ashley Smith, "A Canon of Native American Fiction" (spring 2007); Melissa Lozano, "Miami"s Latinidad" (fall 2006); Ryann Galloway, "Black Women Directing Arts Institutions" (spring 2005); Sean Kelly, "American Men Writing Memoir"(spring 2004).