The two newest English Department faculty members bring research and teaching credentials that address traditional and contemporary issues. Assistant Prof. Jayson Gonzales Sae-Saue received a PhD in Modern Thought and Literature (and PhD minor in Ethnic Studies) from Stanford University in 2010. He served as an instructor at Stanford University and the University of Colorado, where he was nominated for a university teaching award. Gonzales Sae-Saue’s current research involves revisiting foundational Chicana/o and Asian American literature to demonstrate the ways they challenge the literary and cultural dominions they’ve helped to define.
Associate Prof. Marjorie Swann comes to SMU following a seventeen-year stint at the University of Kansas where she was a faculty member in the English Department and director of the MA program in Museum Studies. She has taught undergraduate courses in poetry and Shakespeare, British literature before 1800, Queen Elizabeth I, post-Renaissance adaptations of Shakespeare, and early modern literature and the environment. Swann received her PhD from Oxford University in England. With a book and an extensive body of published articles, essays, reviews, and more in progress, she is researching a new book about Izaak Walton’s fishing treatise, The Compleat Angler.
Jayson Gonzales Sae-Saue
Assistant Prof. Jayson Gonzales Sae-Saue came to Dallas after two years in Finland, arriving during August’s near-record setting heat wave. While he may still be waiting for temperatures to cool, he’s heating up discussions about Chicana/o literature. “The majority of my students have had no exposure to Chicano literature,” he says. “Those who have are familiar with only one novel: Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street.”
While he teaches Cisneros’s novel, he says that one text cannot possibly exhaust the Chicano literary imagination. “There is a long tradition of literature written by Mexican Americans, and its range of literary forms articulates a diverse spectrum of cultural, social, and political concerns,” he says. He plans to introduce his students to the literary development of a complex Chicano consciousness, demonstrating how Mexican Americans have used literary forms to imagine history and to articulate modes of thinking. Explaining that while the terms “Mexican American” and “Chicano” are used somewhat interchangeably, “Mexican American” is more accurately used when discussing literary production prior to the conceptualization of a Chicano cultural identity during the political movements of the 1960’s. “The biggest misunderstanding of Chicano literature is that it’s strictly a political genre, that it has no artistic value,” he says. According to Gonzales Sae-Saue, Chicano art conditions the very possibility of imagining a certain political or cultural identity. “Cisneros is a fantastic writer who uses innovative literary means in order to imagine particular political and cultural values,” he says. “She deploys progressive narrative techniques that work at the level of form to make it possible to imagine a community.”
He seeks also to correct the misunderstanding of the insularity of Chicano and Mexican American literature. The Chicano literary imagination, he explains, engages other literary traditions and minority histories. “I want students to learn to recognize that the Chicano imagination is keenly aware of the experiences of other ethnic communities and of the flows of cultural values between seemingly divergent populations,” he says.
The required texts for Gonzales Sae-Saue’s class read as a sort of “greatest hits” of Chicano literature. Using texts published across decades, he discusses how the literary development of the selected works reveals the construction of new forms of Chicano identity. “That’s the power of literature – that literary forms can be deployed to conceptualize concerns of a community and to articulate a historical consciousness,” he says. “This is very different, obviously, from simply considering certain texts as celebrations of an essential identity or as documents which simply testify to a historical condition.”
Gonzales Sae-Saue sees the classroom as an extension of his research. “Nothing gives me more satisfaction than when students introduce me to a new way of relating to a text using the very methods by which I teach them to read,” he says. “Students are not passive sponges. I encourage them to engage with me at the level of ideas.This is a critical part of how the production of knowledge happens.”
“In many ways, I’m in the same position as the freshman students here; I don’t know what to expect. But I have the experience and the confidence to roll with the punches and adapt.” Associate Prof. Marjorie Swann, the newest tenured faculty addition to the Department of English, brings a wry wit, hearty laugh and slight Canadian accent to the SMU campus, along with a passion for undergraduate education. “I’m here because I had fantastic teachers as an undergraduate who showed me that I have abilities and possibilities that I had never dreamed of. I want to offer that same kind of transformation to students. That’s why I got into this racket.”
Swann brings with her William Tsutsui, her husband and the new Dean of Dedman College who was raised in Bryan College Station. “He’s come home,” she says. “I didn’t realize how much of a Texan he was until I saw him slip in here. Texans have multiple cultural repertoires and can do Texan in a way that someone who’s not from Texas can’t.”
Swann hails from a rural northern area she calls “Ontario’s answer to the Bible belt,” where very few students went on to university. She did graduate work in England and bounced around to different parts of the US before becoming a US citizen. “I was an undergraduate at Queens University a long time ago,” she says with a laugh. “I had a Shakespeare professor who lectured in an academic robe: he swooped into class with his black sleeves flapping like the wings of the angel of death.” While her undergraduate education was old school, Swann says she’s adapted to the less formal, more discussion-oriented American system that is open to pop culture and students’ articulating their own ideas. She is currently teaching introduction to poetry and Shakespeare classes.
“Often, my students’ first encounter with Shakespeare, outside of the high school classroom, is the film 10 Things I Hate About You,” she says. “If I’m going to have credibility with them and a sense of where they’re at, then I need to know where they’re coming from. I’ve actually become interested, both as a teacher and a researcher, in the way in which some of these figures from earlier periods – Shakespeare being one example – stay culturally alive.”
Her own scholarship is informed by current theorized debates about literature and the cultural survival of older texts. According to Swann, learning to read poetry is the ultimate literacy. “If you can read poetry, you can read anything,” she says. She explained that while poetry is unforgiving in terms of the care with which one must read it, its particularity results in ambiguity.
“There’s this combination of being both so particular and so disciplined, yet also content with not having a final answer that everyone is going to agree with.” “But then,” she says, “that’s the ultimate liberal arts experience, and that’s what we’re supposed to be doing as liberal arts educators.”