Let Us Introduce You: Jonathan Sawday

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Let Us Introduce You: Jonathan Sawday

John Schuler/ Photo Editor

John Schuler/ Photo Editor

John Schuler/ Photo Editor

John Schuler/ Photo Editor

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John Schuler/ Photo Editor

English professor hails from Great Britain, loves sailing 

Working in an office with bookshelves filled to the ceiling, Jonathan Sawday seems to be a typical Literature professor.  The newly-appointed English Department Chair holds the position of the Walter J. Ong, SJ, Endowed chair in the Humanities Department.

Originally from Leicester, England, he received his Ph.D. in Renaissance Literature from the University College of London Before coming to Saint Louis University in 2009, he was a professor of English at the University of Strathclyde, in Glasgow, Scotland.

Sawday’s love of literature began at a young age.

“I was one of those kids who always had his nose in a book,” he said.

Sawday said his favorite series as a child, the ‘Biggles’ novels of Captain W. E. Johns, were what piqued his interest in reading.

“The hero drank, smoked, and was clearly sexist and racist. The books were not at all what we would give our children to read today. But we knew no better then,” he said.

Such was his eagerness to read more of his favorite childhood hero, that he needed special permission from the public library so he could check more than four books out at once.

“I love the kind of escape of a novel,” he said. “It’s an alternative sort of world.”

Sawday also credits his love of literature to a “fantastic” English teacher he had at school in Yorkshire, England. As a student at London University, Sawday considered studying Economics instead of English, but says his lack of mathematical skills helped him make the right decision.

Sawday, however, does not only lead a life in academics. His second identity is that of a broadcast journalist. Well-versed in both radio and TV, he has contributed to multiple radio stations in Britain, including BBC Radio 3, Radio 4, and the BBC World Service.

Sawday’s third identity resides in his passion for sailing. He tries to sail off the west coast of Scotland each summer and owns a boat named for a Scottish island: the Colonsay of Crinan. His experience goes back to the 1960s, when he learned to sail as a child in Cornwall.

Sawday has a lot of experience teaching in the United States. When it comes to comparing American and British students, however, Sawday stated that we are more similar than different.

“Students all over the world have the same issues, problems, skills and attributes,” Sawday said. “One big difference, though, is the different cultural references shared among U.S. as opposed to U.K. students.”

The developing English department at SLU was a big attraction for Sawday. Another attraction was the title of his position: the Ong Endowed chair. Ong was a Jesuit priest and a professor at SLU who died in 2003.

Sawday teaches both graduate and undergraduate classes. His particular research interest is in how literature intersects with technology, claiming that a poem can be thought of a kind of technology.

“A poem may be one of the most complex pieces of technology ever devised…whose precise meaning and use can shift over hundreds of years,” Sawday said.

When it comes to SLU students, however, Sawday has a piece of advice for all, regardless of background: “Take an English class at SLU with our faculty,” Sawday said. “The professors here are quite extraordinary.”