Paul Sawyer

Professor Emeritus & Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow


Before coming to Cornell University in 1975, Paul Sawyer lived eight years in New York as a student at Columbia University. He’s the author of Ruskin’s Poetic Argument (1985) and articles on Victorian literary prose, the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King, pornography, and other topics. His interests include the Victorian era, cultural studies, the American 1960s, writing pedagogy, the history of aesthetics and criticism, and historical approaches to the study of literature. Since 2006 he’s been director of the Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines.  As a founding member of the Cornell Prison Education Project he teaches occasional courses in a maximum security prison at Auburn, NY, as part of that program. His current projects include a book on the literature and culture of the American 1960s and a monograph on the Autobiography of Malcolm X.  He’s also interested in developing service-learning courses for undergraduates and in working with graduate students who are teaching writing and literature courses in prison.

Research Focus

  • Literature of the Victorian period
  • Nonfiction prose—its form and genres, its audience, its historical and ideological functions
  • Fiction and poetry of the nineteenth century
  • Marxian and feminist approaches and the ways questions of politics and ideology can be related to close local readings
  • Cultural studies
  • Contemporary American literature, culture, and politics
  • Writing pedagogy and community literacies

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