Faculty Profile Series: Michael Sawyer

Headshot of Michael Sawyer.

This interview is part of our New Faculty Profile Series, which highlights faculty who have joined the Literature Program in recent years.

Dr. Michael Sawyer (he/him/his) is Associate Professor of English whose work focuses on the revolutionary potential of Black people. Dr. Sawyer was recently awarded an artist’s residency with ONX Studio in New York City to work on his Augmented and Virtual Reality assemblage entitled “Cognition in Shades of Black” (https://www.onx.studio/members). Recent publications and presentations include the following:

  1. Book Review of Zakiyyah Iman Jackson’s Becoming Human in Modern Philology
  2. “Crépuscle with RA Judy: A Review of Sentient Flesh: Thinking in Disorder, Poiēsis in Black” New Formations: A Journal of Culture / Theory / Politics
  3. “Melville’s Meditation on the Long Shipwreck of the Middle Passage” book chapter in Companion to Melville edited by Wyn Kelley and Christopher Ohge, Wiley Blackwell
  4. “Thinking in Motion: Embodied Radical Praxis of Malcolm X” Young India Research Council (9 April 2022)
  5. “Race and Media Philosophy” webinar with Michael Sawyer and Armond Towns, Digital Culture & Media Initiative Penn State University (30 March 2022)
  6. Thurman Thursday Book Discussion Black Minded with Prof. Michael Sawyer, Ph.D. Morehouse College Atlanta, GA
  7. “Re-Thinking Malcolm X” Peniel Joseph and Michael Sawyer (in conversation) University of Maryland, College Park, MD (20 November 2021)
  8. “(Dis)Able(d) Blackness” Brown University Prosthetic Lives Symposium Providence, RI (5-6 November 2021)


The following interview was conducted via responses to written questions.


When did you begin teaching in Pitt's literature program? Which are the courses you typically teach?

Fall 2021. Morrison grad seminar. Survey of 20th century African American Literature and a course on the lyricism of the Black musical tradition


What are your primary fields of research and teaching?

Africana Literature, Political philosophy and theory, aesthetics, and cultural studies


Would you describe your journey toward these topics?

I have always been interested in politics, philosophy, and music but for a very long time as unrelated phenomenon. Literature connects them for me.


Which questions motivate your teaching and writing?

I am interested in the revolutionary potentiality of various forms of expression; not limited to aesthetics and literature but also philosophy, theory, and sports


Would you speak about your approach to teaching, maybe by sharing a bit about a recent course--its texts, concerns, assignments, projects, etc.?

Teaching to me depends upon dialog.


Was there a teacher, mentor, family member, event, book (or some combination thereof!) that shaped your thinking, teaching, and your desire to study literature professionally?

My dissertation chair Barrymore Anthony Bogues at Brown and Toni Morrison are the foundations of my thinking.


How are our ongoing pandemic conditions shaping your work?

I have been fortunate to navigate the pandemic without a big loss to my work.


What is one of the best experiences you've had teaching literature at Pitt?

The undergraduate survey course in African American literature was a highlight.


Do you have a project on the horizon that you are excited about and would want to share here?

Two book projects: the first "The Door of Return: Being as Black" and "Ramifications of Ramifications: The Philosophical Art of Toni Morrison". I am also working on an augmented reality visual and sonic assemblage that takes up Morrison's system of cognition called "Re-Memory."


What are some of your hobbies/interests outside of the literature program/university life?

Caring for dogs, falconry, endurance sports, tennis


What are you reading right now?

Pretty much everything by John Le Carré


What is one book you wish more people would read?